PRC SPEAKS OUT

Business news doesn’t take a vacation, even during a Maine summer

Posted July 27, 2012, at 9:42 a.m.
Last modified July 29, 2012, at 9:32 a.m.
Chris Hall, senior vice president for government relations, Portland Regional Chamber
Chris Hall, senior vice president for government relations, Portland Regional Chamber

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:

So other than the weather, what’s hot in Maine this July?

Well, it turns out there have been several issues brewing. Just in case you’ve been enjoying the summer more than you’ve been following the news during the past few weeks, here’s an easy way to catch up.

Below you’ll find links to some of the biggest stories occupying this month’s headlines. The most important topics on the radar include:

  1. Where is Maine headed under the federal health care reform law? You’ll see there’s quite a difference of opinion in our Health Care update.
  2. How well are Maine’s K-12 schools doing? A recent report from Harvard gave Maine a poor national ranking, but what exactly did the report say, and what should we do in response? Check out our Education update for many diverse opinions on this and the following two issues.
  3. There are big changes going on at the University of Southern Maine. What will they mean for our region’s largest higher education institution?
  4. Charter schools have finally been given the OK to open – three of them, including one in Portland next year, will pioneer expanded school choice. What impact will they have?

There are plenty of other things going on this summer in our region and around the state. As always take a look at the offerings below, jump into the ones you find most interesting, stay informed and stay engaged.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to keep enjoying our Maine summer!

State Policy round-up: The candidate slates for the fall state house elections are now set ( PPH), and Greg Kesich rated the Democrats’ chances for retaking control of the legislature. Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman are doing regular political commentary in the BDN, among other venues. Recently they took a look at the concluded legislative session, and began a series on the mechanics of passing laws in Maine. Elsewhere:

Bonds: The Governor’s decision to postpone state borrowing left a project in Norway in limbo ( BDN), among 11 others ( BDN, MPBN). DECD Commissioner George Gervais wrote to explain the administration’s approach to R&D. Orlando Delogu challenged the Governor’s authority to delay issuing bonds, and the Governor’s Legal Counsel Michael Cianchette responded with a rebuttal. The LSJ editors called on the Governor to reverse his position, as did Rep. Jeff McCabe ( BDN). Emily Shaw also commented.

Budget: The Maine DHHS found ways to avoid a $12.5 million dollar budget shortfall at the end of June, providing some good news for state house budget writers ( BDN). As also noted below in the Health Care section, unanswered questions surrounding the federal Affordable Care Act have significant, but unresolved, state budget implications ( BDN).

Economic Development: Maine moved up a bit (to 35th) in CNBC’s national ranking of state business climates ( BDN). Bill Nemitz and Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt exchanged views on fireworks vs. advanced materials technologies as job creation strategies. The Governor continued a series of workshops focused on job creation ( BDN), and spoke in his last radio message on the subject ( PPH). Mike Aube wrote about regional interdependence. Sterling Kozlowski wrote about international opportunities for Maine companies.

Education: Three major issues grabbed headline:

The first three charter school in Maine were officially approved by state regulators, including the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield ( PPH) and the Baxter Academy School of Technology and Science in Portland ( PPH, BDN, PDS, MBPN, Forecaster). The PPH’s Susan McMillian took a look at how national experts assessed Maine’s charter school law. The PPH editors and the BDN editors both commented on charter schools in Maine.

Harvard University issued a report ( text) on how much progress raising student test scores states have made in the last twenty years – Maine ranked 49th nationally ( BDN). Reaction came from Governor LePage ( BDN, PPH), the Maine School Management Association ( BDN), the BDN editors, Doug Rooks, Scott Voisine, Lois Kilby-Chesley and Charles Lawton. On Wednesday the Governor announced new initiatives in response to the Harvard data ( PPH, BDN, MPBN), and Amy Fried commented.

Selma Botman stepped down as President of the University of Southern Maine ( PPH, BDN, PDS, MPBN). Theo Kalikow was appointed to succeed Botman ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). The BDN and LSJ editors commented on the transition. Greg Kesich called for major changes at USM, while Bob and Jill Blackwood wrote about the good things going on at USM.

Other items of note included a K-12 survey that showed students feel a lack of challenge in school ( BDN), another student survey that showed 8th graders are not connecting with STEM ( BDN), a MaineBiz conversation with UMaine Chancellor James Page, and a state budget cut that eliminated funding for over 30 school health coordinators ( PPH).

Energy: The PPH’s Tux Turkel analyzed expected electric rate increases in the coming years. The Law Court directed the PUC to take another look at the health issues surrounding smart meters ( PPH, Forecaster, PPH).

Environment: The DEP is turning out land use permits faster than they did before ( BDN). Ben Gillman and Rep. Bob Duchesne exchanged views on Maine’s Kid Safe Products law.

Health Care: In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmation of the federal Affordable Care Act (‘ACA’) Governor LePage said he’d wait until after the November elections to make decisions on how, or if, Maine would implement the federal law ( Mal Leary and Matt Stone in the BDN, Steve Mistler in the PPH). The BDN ( twice) and LSJ editors both urged the Governor and the legislature to being planning for implementation now.

One aspect of implementing the ACA is whether Maine can make planned cuts in MaineCare (our Medicaid program), or whether the ACA forbids those reductions. Just last week the Congressional Research Service concluded Maine and other states could not reduce existing Medicaid programs ( BDN). Earlier in the month Congresswoman Pingree urged the same view ( PPH), something the Governor took sharp exception with ( PPH). The upshot is that Maine may land in court before we know whether new MaineCare cuts are legal ( LSJ, BDN).

Meanwhile what’s next? James McCarthy at MaineBiz took a look ahead at what Maine businesses need to know about the ACA, as did Joel Allumbaugh and USM’s Joseph McDonnell. MaineHealth shared their plans for implementation ( MPBN), and the Maine Health Management Coalition detailed their approach as well ( MPBN). The PPH editors looked forward to health care cost control as the next major chapter in reform.

Small business: A new small business loan program has been a success in the Bangor area ( BDN).

Tax: Mal Leary in the BDN took a look at the impacts in Maine if Congress fails to extend existing federal income tax rates. It would be ugly – we’d see about $1.4 billion in new taxes in 2013. The Maine Wire reported on a new study of Maine’s tax competitiveness – the news was mixed, at best.

Transportation: The debate over the proposed east/west highway project continued with some environmental groups attacking the plan ( BDN, PPH, MPBN). Doug Rooks wrote about the need to increase the gas tax.

Workers Comp: Assessments dropped again last month, another good piece of news ( BDN).

Around the Region: There was news on three infrastructure issues that impact the region. First, the MERC energy recovery facility in Biddeford is set to close ( PPH), comment from Tracie Konopinski and Ed Spencer. Second, the extension of natural gas lines in the Cumberland/Falmouth/Yarmouth region is under active consideration ( PPH, Forecaster, MPBN). Council votes in all three towns are expected next week ( Forecaster). Third, the renovations to the Civic Center won Portland Planning Board approval ( PDS, PPH, PDS).

Cape Elizabeth & South Portland: In Cape Elizabeth town charter changes will appear on the November ballot ( Forecaster).

In South Portland plans to upgrade the public works garage were put on hold ( Current).

Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland a contract zoning proposal for affordable housing went to the Council ( Forecaster).

In Falmouth planning for changes to Route 1 continued ( PPH). The Council began the process of evaluating a food trucks ordinance ( Forecaster).

Portland: Emmanuel Caulk was named the new Portland Superintendent of Schools ( PPH, BDN, Forecaster, PDS). He began his transition right away ( PPH, BDN), and will get help from a newly appointed transition team ( Forecaster). Elsewhere:

  1. The Council approved new $170 million dollar storm water fees, despite some concerns from property owners and businesses ( PPH, PPH, BDN, PDS);
  2. A new waterfront development discussion opened with Australian developer Frank Monsour ( PPH);
  3. The Council gave approval to a new food truck ordinance ( BDN, PDS, Forecaster);
  4. The City was ranked #3 nationally by Parents Magazine among the best places to raise a family ( BDN);
  5. The possibility of re-drawing City school district lines is becoming more real ( BDN, PPH);
  6. A conversation about bringing streetcars back to Portland is in the works ( Forecaster, BDN);
  7. Homelessness in Portland is growing ( PPH) – the PPH editors commented;
  8. Long time City Attorney Gary Wood announced his retirement ( PPH, BDN); and
  9. 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: Plans for an 81 unit assisted living project moved ahead ( PPH).

Westbrook and Gorham: In Westbrook former Police Chief William Baker was named as Director of Business and Community Relations and Assistant City Administrator ( PPH, Current).

In Gorham the Town Council is facing a number of personnel changes ( Current). A new downtown parking initiative faced initial reviews ( PPH, Current).

One last thing: The Governor would like you to take his survey on how to improve Maine’s business climate. Let’s make sure the survey results reflect our region’s views, along with the rest of the state! Click here to take the survey.

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 chall@portlandregion.com. Partners for Progress Policy Updates are supported by contributions from Partners for Progress.

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