PRC SPEAKS OUT

Election season heats up, and a roundup of other economic development news

Posted Oct. 05, 2012, at 1:12 p.m.

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.

Recently it isn’t just the campaign season that’s longer – the polls are open longer too. Absentee ballots are already available. Follow these links for more information on early voting in your community: Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook.

In recent elections between a quarter and a third of us have voted early, and the trend is growing ( BDN analysis and BDN editors comment). So even though there’s a month to go before Election Day it seems like the right time to start taking a closer look at the races in our region. Helpfully we’ve already got a number of state house contests profiled by the Forecaster and the Current (with more to come), including:

  1. James Boyle v. Ruth Summers: Senate District 6 (Gorham, parts of Westbrook and Scarborough)
  2. Rebecca J. Millett v. Michael D. Wallace: Senate District 7 (Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, part of Scarborough)
  3. Justin Alfond v. Asher Platts: Senate District 8 (parts of Portland)
  4. Anne Haskell v. Kirsten Martin: Senate District 9 (Portland’s Back Cove, Deering and parts of Westbrook)
  5. Joseph Kumiszcza v. Stephen Moriarty: House District 108 (Cumberland, part of N. Yarmouth)
  6. Mark Dion v. Jeffrey Langholtz: House District 113 (Portland’s North Deering, Falmouth west of I-95)
  7. Eric Bleicken v. Peter Stuckey: House District 114 (Portland’s East Deering, islands, and east of Washington Ave)
  8. Erik Jorgensen v. Seth Berner: House District 115 (Portland’s Back Cove)
  9. Roger Bishop v. Scott Hamann v. Kenneth Myrick: House District 123 (Cape Elizabeth, part of South Portland)
  10. Paul Aronson v. Amy Volk: House District 127 (eastern Scarborough)
  11. Jean-Marie Caterina v. Heather Sirocki: House District 128 (western Scarborough)

Look below in our Regional section for information about municipal elections, and we’ll keep you up to date in our next Update as more races get coverage.

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In the meantime for more about the elections visit the Secretary of State’s webpage – for instance if you don’t know which legislative districts you live in, go here and check out the House and Senate District maps, or use this handy look-up utility. You can get a complete list of state house candidates on this page, and for more on municipal races you can visit the local webpages linked above.

What’s most important is for you to vote, either early or on Election Day.

And remember, this is one of the best times to make your voice heard. Candidates are anxious to talk to voters, so grab the opportunity and tell them what you think!

Fix-the-Debt: Former State Senator Phil Harriman wrote an op-ed in the BDN this week that’s certainly worth reading. In brief Harriman introduces readers to the Campaign to Fix-the-Debt, a bi-partisan coalition asking all elected federal officials to commit to reducing our nation’s $16 trillion dollar debt. Working off the foundations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission report, the Campaign is urging Maine voters to ask our Senators and Representatives to be part of a debt solution. And yes, that means tackling the hard stuff including the tax code, entitlement programs and every other spending priority.

Harriman makes a compelling case for voter and Congressional action. Take a look and see if you don’t agree.

State Policy round-up: Maine People Before Politics released its legislative scorecard ( MW), as did the Maine League of Conservation VotersGreg Kesich commented. Elsewhere:

  1. Ballot watch: U.S. District Judge Nancy Torrensen ruled on the ‘Cutler files’ case ( PPH, BDN), drawing contrasting comment from the PPH editors and Al Diamon.
  1. Bonds: The November ballot has 4 statewide bond questions totally $76 million dollars – Glenn Adams summarizes each of them ( PPH). The costs of Municipal Bond Bank borrowing may be increased due to a ratings change ( PPH).
  1. Budget: An initial estimate of the structural gap in the upcoming 2-year state budget (July 2013 through June 2015) logged in at $756 million dollars ( BDN). Experts agreed the real number is considerably smaller, yet still daunting ( PPH). Federal officials said the state, not food stamp recipients, would be required to pay back overpayments ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). Commissioner Mary Mayhew disagreed and promised an appeal, while the PPH editors took the opposite view. For more state budget detail check out the September issue of Fiscal News.
  1. Economic Development: Despite troubles Maine’s commercial fisheries rank 3rd most valuable in the nation ( BDN), and Maine’s combined fish and game economy exceeds $1.4 billion dollars ( LSJ), all according to federal statistics. Leaders of the state’s paper industry discussed their future ( BDN). Maine Fiber Co. completed the ‘3-Ring Binder’ project, expanding fiber-optic infrastructure in Maine ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) – comment from the BDN editors and Charles Lawton.
  1. Education: The University of Maine Trustees proposed keeping tuition flat for the next two years, if the state provides funding at UMS’s requested level ( BDN). The Governor wasn’t buying in, but he made a counteroffer ( BDN, LSJ, MPBN).

More comment on the Governor’s cartoon to school principals came from the BDN and LSJ editors. The Governor also discussed the nature of political disagreements around education policy ( MW). The Maine Development Foundation launched Next Step Maine to assist with workforce development ( MPBN). A new study of the state school funding formula began ( MPBN).

  1. Energy: The Maine Heritage Policy Center released a study of the impacts on consumers and the economy from the state’s ‘renewable portfolio standards’ ( MW). Tom Tietenberg wrote a contrasting op-ed on energy efficiency.
  1. Environment: MPBN took a look at how new state regulations for mining are coming along.
  1. Health Care: The debate continued around 2011’s PL 90, the state level health insurance reform law championed by Republicans and opposed by most Democrats. Rep. Deborah Sanderson and Mike Tipping exchanged arguments, while Scott Thistle at the LSJ and the MaineWire staff dug into the details. Matt Dodge at MaineBiz looked at how companies are taking new approaches toward mental illness in the workplace.
  1. Labor: New Maine Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette wrote about her agency’s strategy to meet shifting workforce needs. The administration named Kevin Healey as the new vice-chair of the State Workforce Investment Board ( BDN). Maine’s unemployment rate remained below the nation’s, but the gap closed in August ( BDN).
  1. Real estate: The Maine State Housing Authority ran into trouble when a federal audit uncovered administrative problems ( BDN, PPH). MSHA’s new Director John Gallagher expressed confidence that matters would be set straight ( BDN) – the BDN editors commented.
  1. Small Business: In addition to Blackstone Accelerates Growth’s kick off for its Portland and Bangor Innovation Hubs (see Portland news below) the U.S. SBA awarded new funding for small business export expansion to the Maine International Trade Center ( BDN).
  1. Tax: With questions about the BETR program in the press, Maine State Chamber President Dana Connors defended the program’s record of accomplishment. Maine’s ‘circuit-breaker’ programs, designed to reduce property tax burdens for homeowners and renters, are under-utilized ( PPH).
  1. Welfare Reform: As the 5 year limit on certain assistance programs kicks in many people are turning to cities for more help, while many others are turning to job training programs ( LSJ, BDN).

Statewide: Lewiston Mayor Robert MacDonald stirred controversy with comments about recent immigrants ( PPH, MPBN). The Mayor responded to critics ( LSJ, PPH), but a petition calling for his resignation has been submitted ( LSJ). The LSJ editors and Ralph Carmona commented. A forum held just before the Mayor’s comments became public focused on the economic importance of a strong immigrant presence in Maine ( Forecaster).

Senate Watch: Along with more reports on campaign details than we can fit here, the race drew recent comment and analysis from Robert Long at the BDN, Greg Kesich, Ben Grant, Matt Gagnon, Alan Caron, Libby Mitchell, Mike Cuzzi and Doug Rooks. We saw three polls in the last 10 days: a Rasmussen poll ( PPH, BDN), a Critical Insights poll ( PPH), and an internal Summers poll ( BDN). Olympia Snowe announced that she would use some of her remaining campaign war chest to fund a PAC devoted to supporting moderate Congressional candidates ( BDN, LSJ).

Around the Region: Greater Portland Landmarks said 7 historic sites were ‘in peril’ ( PPH, BDN, Forecaster) – the PPH editors commented. 9 Legislative candidates had a spirited debate in a joint event at Cape Elizabeth High School ( Forecaster). Elsewhere:

In Cape Elizabeth while the Council races are uncontested ( Forecaster), there’s a lively school board contest ( Forecaster) and two local ballot questions to be decided ( Forecaster).

In Cumberland SAD 51 may lose North Yarmouth if the town’s voters go forward with a look at withdrawal from the school district, and that plan is subsequently approved ( PPH).

In Falmouth the Council continued its consideration of size limits for ‘big box’ retail ( Forecaster) – expect additional discussion later this month. Business curbside recycling is coming back ( Forecaster).

In Gorham six candidates are running for two Council seats ( Current).

In Portland the PPH’s Tom Bell provided a detailed look at the challenges and opportunities facing the Portland school system. The system’s success is critical to the City’s, and the region’s, economic future. Elsewhere:

  1. A task force studying homelessness in Portland offered some big solutions ( BDN);
  1. New USM President Theo Kalikow wrote about higher education innovation;
  1. The City is scrutinizing overtime costs in the Fire Department ( PPH);
  1. Work is starting on Portland’s enhanced stormwater management system ( PPH);
  1. Tougher restaurant inspection rules are in the works ( PPH) – the PPH editors commented;
  1. Blackstone Accelerates Growth opened its Portland ‘Innovation Hub’ and named several companies they’re working with already ( PPH, BDN);
  1. The Thompson’s Point project received a federal infrastructure grant ( BDN); and
  1. 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 Scarborough make sure you visit the Town’s website for local news and information. Congratulations to all the businesses honored by SEDCO this year, including the Scarborough Community Chamber for being recognized for ‘outstanding contributions to the community’ ( Current).

In South Portland the Council got conflicting information about when it can vote in secret on certain legal settlements ( Current). The Council gave final approval to a new parking plan for Knightville ( Forecaster).

In Westbrook the negotiated settlement between Idexx and Pike Industries received approval from the City’s Planning Board ( Current) and a first reading from the Council ( Current). Voters don’t have elected officials to vote for this year, but a City Charter amendment will be on the ballot ( Current). Bill Baker, Westbrook’s assistant city administrator for business and community relations, got more business feedback during his outreach sessions ( 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!

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by the generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. If you’d like to become a Partner, please contact Chamber CEO Godfrey Wood. And for more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber – businesses building a better community - just click here.

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