Editor’s note: This report is compiled weekly for members of the Portland Regional Chamber. It provides a breakdown of recent news around state policy, as well as a heads-up on coming events. The Bangor Daily News is publishing this report in cooperation with the PRC.
PRC speaks out
The governor’s line-item veto of additional state funding for municipal general assistance may have rejected the Legislature’s bipartisan compromise on the issue, but it settled nothing. Neither did the decision last week by Republican legislators to not vote on the veto. Here’s why:
General assistance funding will be back before lawmakers when they return to the State House on May 15th. Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Rosen said it’s fair to assume legislators will once again put forward their original bipartisan general assistance funding proposal with little or no change ( PPH). So the issue will remain in play, and nothing is decided — yet.
Speaker Bob Nutting and Senate President Kevin Raye both said they hope to see a compromise that no one will love, but everyone can live with. See below for all the coverage and comment, and stay tuned for reports on discussions leading up to the May 15th legislative session.
Our next Policy Update will be out in two weeks on May 7th and we’ll have a full recap of the legislative session next month when lawmakers finally adjourn after their May 15th session.
In the meantime the Portland region has many things left to do after state policymakers hit the campaign trail:
- Standards-based high school diplomas won’t just happen – the schools in our region will need business community support to make the new policy work.
- Welfare reform is coming, and we need to get ahead of it in our communities and in the region.
- The Portland region’s economic future depends on coordinating local, regional and state policies now and in the future. Jobs are still the number one priority.
At the Portland Regional Chamber we’ll be working on these issues, and many others, as we head into the spring and summer. If you want to be a part of the discussion, all you need to do is let me know.
State Policy round-up: Odds and ends from the State House include two more domestic violence bills signed ( PPH), coverage of new disclosure requirements for legislators ( BDN), Tom Cox’s take on LD 145’s veto and David Farmer’s fond reflections on Dick Barringer’s career.
- Budget: Much to everyone’s surprise, the day after the Legislature recessed Gov. LePage used his constitutional power to line item veto two spending items in the most recent supplemental budget ( LD 1903) – additional state funding for municipal general assistance and disproportionate share funding of mental illness services ( BDN, MPBN, PPH).
A few days later Republican legislators decided not to return to the state house to vote on the Governor’s vetoes, allowing the vetoes to stand by default ( PPH, BDN, BDN editors, PPH editors). Fallout from the decision produced a predictable partisan reaction ( PPH, BDN, LSJ, MPBN). Press requests for the names of Republicans who voted not to return met with mixed results ( BDN).
Comment on the Governor’s action included editorials from the PPH, BDN and the Maine Wire, radio interviews on WGAN with Speaker Bob Nutting, Senate President Kevin Raye, House Minority Leader Emily Cain, and Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, reaction from the Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development ( LSJ, PDS) and columns from Matt Gagnon and Doug Rooks. The Governor responded to the mayors, who in turn fired back ( BDN).
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee is back to work this week on all remaining issues before them ( agendas) – Eric Russell at the BDN set the table for this week’s work. On a welcome note it appears that state revenues continue to strengthen ( LSJ, MPBN).
- Bonds: The Appropriations Committee has scheduled this Wednesday for work on all remaining bond proposals ( agenda) – whether a bond package makes it to the ballot this year remains up in the air with the Governor saying a balanced budget must come first ( BDN).
- Economic Development: Mike Aube reflected on Maine’s economic development strategies.
- Education: Chris Cousins reported in the BDN on how Maine’s 4th grade reading scores have fallen while education funding has risen – the BDN editors commented.
- Energy: Doug Rooks looked at the future of Maine’s wind power industry ( MaineBiz). The Maine Public Advocate took steps to become a member of the New England Power Pool ( BDN). The PPH’s Tux Turkel looked at waste to energy policies in Maine.
- Environmental: The Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards were given out last week ( BDN). A land conservation bond may not be in the cards this year ( BDN).
- Health Care: Last year’s biennial state budget placed a 5-year waiting period on legal non-citizens to receive MaineCare benefits. A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that move was filed last week ( BDN, PPH, MPBN). With Maine now boasting the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rate in the nation for methadone treatment, clinics are reducing services and struggling to remain open ( BDN). DHHS is lagging in the provision of residential services to people with intellectual disabilities ( BDN).
- Labor: The Governor held a signing ceremony for three ‘pro-business’ bills: LD 1314 (re-defining the term ‘independent contractor’), LD 1725 (tightening benefits for unemployment insurance and increasing UI fraud prevention) and LD 1913 (making several changes in Maine’s workers comp laws) ( PPH). Labor Commissioner Bob Winglass is already hard at work on implementing LD 1725 and rooting out UI fraud ( BDN). Joe Edwards discussed the workers comp reforms on WGAN.
- Regulatory Reform: Rep. Andre Cushing is seeking a compromise on LD 1810, the bill that would establish new ‘regulatory takings’ compensation for landowners. The bill remains stalled in the state house ( PPH).
- Small Business: Sunday was “ Record Store Day’ – another example of small businesses working together to support each other and their customers. And the national event started right here in Maine ( BDN, PPH).
- Taxation: A group called Maine Taxpayers United is collecting signature in an effort to bring TABOR III to the ballot ( PPH, MPBN). The Governor had pointed remarks about tax policy, the legislature and the budget at the group’s rally last week in Lewiston ( LSJ). The LSJ editors took another poke at tax incentives in Maine, and at the Tree Growth law, and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council reported that Maine has the 5th worst business tax climate in the nation ( BDN).
- Transportation: Randy Billings at MaineBiz took a look at the history and future prospects of the proposed East/West highway.
What’s happening this week at the State House: Not too much. But you can still find the entire state house schedule right here. As noted above, the Appropriations Committee resumes meetings this week.
Around the Region:
Cape Elizabeth & South Portland: In Cape Elizabeth the Council is nearing a decision on plans for the Town Library ( PPH).
In South Portland the future of the farmers’ market is in doubt ( Current).
Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland the SAD 51 school budget is poised to increase ( Forecaster).
In Falmouth a public hearing on the proposed municipal and school budgets drew little comment ( Forecaster).
- 160 applications for the Portland School Superintendent’s position were received ( PPH, BDN, Forecaster);
- Planning for the implementation of Nellie Mae’s grant to the Portland School system continues next week with two forums ( Forecaster); and
- For the latest check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.
In Gorham you can keep up with the entire municipal calendar by visiting the Town’s excellent website.
Want to speak out? It’s easy to do, and believe it or not, it can really work. Notice that all the legislative committees mentioned above are linked – just click on them and you’ll get emails, phone numbers and everything you need to make your voice heard in the state house. If you need help, just email me!
Feedback: So what do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or on other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email if you’d like to share your feedback with me – and thank you!
Chris Hall is senior vice president for government relations at the Portland Regional Chamber. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Partners for Progress Policy Updates are supported by contributions from Partners for Progress.