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
The 125th Legislature finished up its work late last Wednesday night but there’s still some unfinished business for us all to pay attention to.
First, the five bonds passed by the Legislature still need the governor’s signature before they can go to the voters on the November ballot. And the governor has 10 days after enactment to decide whether he’ll sign some, all or none of the bonds, or whether he’ll veto them. The governor hasn’t said what he’s going to do, but he has said he’s worried about adding to Maine’s debt load.
If there’s a bond veto, the Legislature may be back again. When they left last week, they didn’t adjourn “without day” – the technical term for formally ending the 125th Legislature’s second session. Instead they adjourned “until the call of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, respectively, when there is a need to conduct business.” So keep an eye on that.
Another thing to watch is this: The last supplemental budget ( LD 1746) reduced MaineCare eligibility for over 30,000 people. But as Rep. Mark Eves noted ( BDN), federal Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius will need to approve these reductions – and if she doesn’t, another hole in the Maine DHHS budget will open up. That’s something else to keep an eye on in the weeks and months ahead.
Finally, in the last hours of the Legislature’s work about 50 bills were removed from the Special Appropriations Table – the place where new bills await funding – and many of these were either funded or amended to get them passed ( PPH). Just like the bonds, all these bills still require the governor’s signature and he’s made it plain that if a piece of legislation doesn’t pass muster with him, then he will veto it. So once more, stay tuned for new developments over the next week.
Congratulations to the members of the 125thLegislature for two years of hard work. It may be that your labors are finished at the State House – at least until the November elections are past.
But Portland Regional Chamber members may want to keep a lookout for you on the off chance that the 125th Legislature may yet ride again.
State Policy round-up: A recent survey by Critical Insights found that 46 percent of Mainers have no opinion at all about the Legislature – something the PPH editors had a strong opinion about. Rep. Rich Cebra wrote to contest the PPH editors’ take. Rep. Karen Foster and Matt Gagnon also offered more positive views of the legislature’s accomplishments. Susan Cover in the PPH, Doug Rooks and MPBN looked at the session’s outcomes – the BDN editors took a caffeinated look as well. The governor published a 20-page review of his first 500 days in office ( PPH, BDN).
Bonds: In the days leading up to last week’s votes on five different bond bills there were many op-ed pieces in favor of the various proposals – Charles Hewitt supporting R&D, the PPH editors supporting education and John Melrose supporting transportation were representative. With lawmakers approving all five bonds ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) it’s up to the governor whether to sign them, or veto them. Meanwhile the outlook for the state’s bond rating dropped from stable to negative ( BDN, PPH, MPBN).
Budget: LD 1746 passed the Legislature on a party-line vote and was signed by the governor ( PPH). Comment on the cuts in MaineCare and other services came from the BDN editors, Sen. Barry Hobbins and Rep. Emily Cain, and Roger Bowen – MPBN reported on the human impacts.
Education: Tim Hussey and Robert Moore wrote about the continuing need for better educational outcomes in Maine; Mike Aube did too. Rob Brown wrote about the Opportunity Maine program, which was expanded last week by the legislature in LD 835 to add targeted science and technical opportunities for Maine students. Applications for nine K-12 Charter Schools were received last week by state officials ( BDN, PPH). The KJ summarized the session’s education reform bills – some important, some not.
Energy: Mark Vannoy won confirmation as the newest member of Maine Public Utilities Commission ( BDN).
Health Care: The Maine Wire reported substantial reductions in some individual health insurance rates as a result of last year’s PL 90, the state’s health care reform law, but opponents of last year’s reforms criticized the report ( LSJ).
Labor: Randy Billings at MaineBiz looked at the recent changes to Maine’s workers comp system passed earlier in the legislative session.
Transportation: Pete Vigue continued to explain the merits of the proposed East/West highway ( MPBN).
Statewide: The LSJ editors wrote that the county jail system is failing under state control.
Upcoming events: Just a reminder that we have an upcoming Small Business Matters U.S. Senate primary debate:
- On Wednesday May 23rd the Republican Party candidates will join to talk about the issues facing small business, and all of Maine.
The event takes place from 7 to 9 am at the Portland Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland. If you haven’t registered yet it’s not too late – visit our registration page and join us!
Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland there’s more work to be done on impact fees ( Forecaster).
In Falmouth a proposal by OceanView’s developers divided the Council ( Forecaster).
Portland: Mayor Brennan held a news conference last week to put a special focus on new efforts to improve the city’s business friendliness, something the Portland Chamber looks forward to working on with the mayor and his staff – video coverage in the BDN, articles also in the PPH and PDS, and comment from the PPH editors. The PDS listed the City’s recent economic development successes. Elsewhere:
- Voters approved the new school budget with a record low turnout ( PPH, PDS, Forecaster);
- Mayor Brennan reacted to the latest state supplemental budget cuts by warning that they may lead to layoffs in Portland ( BDN, PDS) – USM’s Muskie School also expects lay-offs as a result of state budget cuts ( BDN);
- A new director of planning and community development has been selected ( PDS, BDN);
- Seth Koenig at the BDN looked at the increase of panhandling in Portland ( BDN);
- Large-item pick-up is back ( PPH, Forecaster);
- A task force report recommending the establishment of food trucks in the city is now under review ( PPH, PDS);
- Parking fee increases at city garages had councilors looking at options ( 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.
Westbrook and Gorham: In Westbrook a new system to allow city officials to track school spending is in the works ( Current).
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.