Editor’s note: This report is compiled biweekly 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
Who will be Maine’s next U.S. Senator? It’s a question that we really haven’t had to think about too much in the past 15 years. In our last four U.S. Senate races two highly popular incumbents have produced victory margins of 24, 53, 17 and 38 percent.
But the last time we had an open U.S. Senate seat in 1996 we got a surprise. Republican Susan Collins, who had lost the governor’s race badly just 2 years earlier, rallied to beat former Gov. Joe Brennan 49 to 44 percent after incumbent Sen. William Cohen retired to join President Clinton’s cabinet as secretary of defense. It was a result many folks didn’t expect.
This year Maine’s U.S. Senate race will feature a three-way contest with former Gov. Angus King running as a well-known independent. But who will be the Republican and Democratic Party nominees? Will any of them surprise us?
Six Republicans have stepped up: Former State Senate President Rick Bennett, political newcomer Scott D’Amboise, longtime state legislator Senator Deb Plowman, current State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, current Maine Attorney General Bill Schneider and current Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers.
On the Democratic side four candidates are in the running: State Senator Cynthia Dill from Cape Elizabeth, former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, Representative Jon Hinck from Portland, and businessman Ben Pollard, also from Portland.
You can learn a lot from clicking on each candidate above and visiting their websites. You’ll learn more by joining us on Wednesday, May 16, for a Democratic candidates’ debate ( register here), and on Wednesday May 23, for a Republican candidates’ debate ( register here). All 10 hopefuls are confirmed, and we’re hopeful that our audiences will find out more about each of these individuals who want to represent Maine in the U.S. Senate.
Open seat elections are unpredictable contests – this one, with three major candidates on the November ballot, has the potential to surprise us once again. I’m looking forward to moderating both of our primary debates, and I hope you’ll join us to hear for yourself from the men and women competing for your vote in the June primaries, and in the November general election.
State Policy round-up: Fallout continued from the decision not to reconvene the legislature to vote on overriding the Governor’s two line item vetoes – Senators Ron Collins and Mike Thibodeau wrote to explain the Republican rationale, while critics included the BDN editors, Mike Tipping, Rep. Sara Stevens and David Farmer. Jason Savage wrote to refute the BDN editorial.
The governor outlined his post-session priorities at a ‘Capitol-for-a-Day’ event in Newport ( BDN), but his comment about corrupt state workers set off a firestorm that overshadowed his agenda ( PPH, KJ, BDN). Fellow Republicans called for an apology ( BDN, PPH, MPBN) – negative comments from the PPH and BDN editors followed, while John Rourke wrote to criticize the PPH editorial. Doug Rooks also commented.
LD 1550, a bill increasing county fees at the Registry of Deeds, was vetoed by the governor ( BDN). Randy Billings in MaineBiz took a look at the similarities and differences in the situations surrounding Darryl Brown’s departure as head of the DEP and Bruce Poliquin’s continuation as state treasurer.
- Ballot watch: Changes to the Maine Clean Elections Act may have reduced the number of candidates using the system this year ( PPH). The PPH editors criticized the removal of matching funds, but Rep. Andre Cushing wrote to challenge the editorial’s assumptions. In turn, Rep. Mike Carey wrote to oppose Rep. Cushing’s views.
- Budget: After much speculation the Governor signed LD 1903, the second supplemental budget (after removing two spending lines via his vetoes) ( BDN, MPBN). The budget shortfall at DHHS, which remains to be solved when lawmakers reconvene on May 15th, dropped from $89 to $82 million dollars as accounting was refined ( BDN, PPH, MPBN). New state revenue projections added $49 million dollars to the state treasury, which will help solve budget problems, but not entirely ( BDN, PPH, David Farmer commented).
- Bonds: In addition to budgets the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee is also responsible for making recommendations on state bonds – the BDN’s Eric Russell looked at what Maine can afford to borrow. The governor said he wanted budget matters resolved before discussing bonds ( PPH, BDN) which drew negative comment from the PPH and BDN editors. Subsequently the Appropriations Committee voted out a unanimous bipartisan set of five bond proposals ( PPH, BDN) which drew criticism from the Governor ( PPH), comment from Sen. Roger Katz and Rep. Emily Cain on WGAN, a PPH editorial and an op-ed from Doug Rooks.
- Economic Development: Mike Aube discussed how the Bangor region is attracting economic growth and investment.
- Education: Among the late Harold Alfond’s many gifts to our state is a program that offers every Maine child a $500 NextGen college savings account. Remarkably more than half of these gifts are left unclaimed by newborns’ families ( BDN). If you wanted to do something nice for your friends, employees and colleagues you might consider making folks aware of this remarkable opportunity.
Efforts to close the workforce skills gap are continuing at USM ( PPH) and in the central Maine region ( LSJ, MPBN). The University of Maine System’s hiring practices came under scrutiny ( PPH), drawing comment from the PPH and LSJ editors. Laurie Lachance is leaving the Maine Development Foundation to become the next President of Thomas College ( BDN, MPBN) – congratulations Laurie! UM Chancellor James Page commented on the challenges facing the system ( BDN, Bill Nemitz), which now include managing the aftermath of a USM faculty vote on President Selma Botman ( BDN, PPH, BDN, MPBN). Rep. Mike McClellan wrote about state house education reform successes this year.
- Energy: Mark Vannoy, an engineer with Wright-Pierce, was nominated to the PUC by the governor to replace the departing Vendean Vafiades ( PPH, BDN). Maine’s first tidal power contract was given the green light by the PUC ( PPH, BDN) – the Commission also approved a pilot ‘smart grid’ project ( PPH).
- Environmental: The governor signed LD 1853, the bill that re-writes Maine’s mining regulations ( BDN).
- Health Care: Dr. Andrew Coburn wrote to make the case for greater business community involvement in worker and community wellness. Rep. Linda Sanborn commented on recent and pending MaineCare eligibility reductions.
- Pension reform: A bill to ease restrictions on retired teachers returning to work ran into trouble before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee ( PPH).
- Regulatory Reform: Anne Head, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, wrote to detail the additional progress made on regulatory reform in this legislative session.
- Small Business: In 1967 Dustin Hoffman’s character in “The Graduate” got some advice about plastics – today it’s bioplastics as Matt Dodge explores in MaineBiz.
- Taxation: Following up a successful MHPC program ( MW) the MaineWire’s editors called for an end to Maine’s personal income tax. The BDN’s Eric Russell took a closer look at plans by Maine Taxpayers United to put a zero-based state budgeting mandate on next year’s ballot. Rep. Seth Berry criticized LD 849, a bill to use future state revenue surpluses to lower taxes ( BDN) – Jody Harris also panned the bill.
- Transportation: Leaders met to discuss how an east-west highway could boost Maine’s economy ( BDN).
- Welfare reform: Mark Swann and Scott Schnapp wrote about changing strategies to guarantee Maine’s social safety net.
- Other: Cathie Whittenburg wrote to lament the passage of new gun rights in Maine, while M.D. Harmon called for more.
What’s happening this week at the State House: Not too much. But you can still find the entire state house schedule right here. The Appropriations Committee continues meetings this week as they prepare for the May 15th legislative session.
Around the Region: Most communities in our region are moving toward final approval of next year’s school and municipal budgets, with voters having their say in the weeks ahead. Keep your eyes open for the date of the budget referendum in your town by visiting your municipality’s website.
Cape Elizabeth & South Portland: In Cape Elizabeth a public hearing on the new school and municipal budgets was brief and to the point ( Forecaster). The School Board is considering a new policy to accept out-of-town students ( Forecaster).
Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland 3 Council seats are uncontested, but an SAD 51 Board seat is up for grabs ( Forecaster).
In Falmouth the Council has approved both the municipal and school budgets for next year ( Forecaster). 4 candidates are competing for 2 Council seats ( Forecaster). Curbside commercial recycling is coming to town ( Forecaster).
Portland: Seth Koenig and Matt Wickenheiser each wrote detailed stories in the BDN about the impact that $170 million dollars in new stormwater fees will have on taxpayers and businesses in the City. Wickenheiser also provided important perspective by comparing Portland’s situation to other cities around the state and the country ( BDN). Elsewhere:
- Next year’s school budget was reviewed by the Council, which asked for reductions ( PPH, PDS, BDN, Forecaster) – they got them and moved the budgets one step closer to completion ( Forecaster).
- Portland’s containerized shipping came to an abrupt end last week ( PPH, MPBN), but a new type of cargo vessel may hold promise for a return ( BDN). Customers were inconvenienced ( PPH) ;
- The search for a new Portland School Superintendent is down to 7 finalists ( PPH);
- State general assistance funding cuts remained a concern for the City’s budget ( PDS);
- Food trucks may be coming to Portland ( PDS, Forecaster);
- Community policing continues to advance in the City ( BDN); 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.
Scarborough: The Council unanimously approved new municipal and school budgets ( PPH and Forecaster). Funding for regional bus service has been included in the new town budget for the first time ( Forecaster).
Westbrook and Gorham: In Westbrook the Council will vote tonight on the combined municipal and school budget for next year ( Current) – the school budget was reduced from earlier proposals ( Current), and a tax stabilization fund was being considered ( Current). Changes to the City’s Comprehensive Plan were proposed ( Current).
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 email@example.com. Partners for Progress Policy Updates are supported by contributions from Partners for Progress.