Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2013’s first policy update. You’ll find a few changes to our format and content — I hope you enjoy them.
As you know, our focus this year is on improved regional economic development and a stronger regional workforce. We’ll still be active at the state house, but we’ll be looking for a tighter connection between legislative issues and our regional priorities.
Given our focus, one new state house effort jumps off the page. Recently, Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves announced the formation of the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future. The committee will look for ways to grow Maine’s skilled workforce and help small businesses thrive. (Coverage in the BDN and on MPBN, and comment from Charles Lawton and the PPH editors.)
The skills gap will be the committee’s first priority — just as it is at the Portland Regional Chamber and all through our region. Many of us will have the opportunity to provide the committee with our best thinking on how we can close the skills gap and improve the economy. We’ll keep you posted on which lawmakers are appointed to the committee and when public hearings will start.
Until then you can help out by contacting your lawmakers and letting them know what you think. Whether you speak out now or later, make sure your voice is heard. Not everyone in a big organization like our chamber believes the same thing on every issue, so it’s very important to use the resources we provide to get your own views in front of lawmakers. As always we’re here to help — and with your help the Portland region will have a productive legislative session.
Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:
State budgets are always complex. On Friday, Gov. Paul LePage released his proposed state budget for the next two years, starting 7/1/13 running through 6/30/15. It’s an understatement to say the governor’s proposals are controversial — news coverage is collected below, under budget.
Thankfully the governor’s staff put together an excellent summary of the 1000+ page budget — here’s a short document that anyone can quickly read through and get a good idea of what’s being proposed.
Keep in mind that many of these ideas are being opposed, and you won’t find any of those objections in the summary. Nevertheless, this is the best place to begin understanding the upcoming budget debate that will impact our communities.
For example, the governor has proposed completely suspending municipal revenue sharing for two years, cutting statewide transfers to municipalities by almost $100 million per year. In a controversial budget, this will be the biggest controversy, and we’ll be hearing more this week from municipal officials about the impacts of the proposed cuts on property taxes and local services.
By reading the governor’s budget summary, you’ll have a much better idea of which issues, such as major changes to the BETR program, may impact your business and your community.
In the State House: It’s always interesting to hear what folks are saying about the upcoming legislative session. Recent comment included: Senate President Justin Alfond on WGAN, Senate Republican Assistant Minority Leader Roger Katz, Mike Cuzzi, Greg Kesich, the PPH editors, the AP’s Glenn Adams, MPBN’s A.J. Higgins, Matt Gagnon, and Robert Long in the BDN.
Portland lawmakers and municipal officials discussed their priorities ( PDS), Sen. Dick Woodbury looked ahead in Mainebiz, and Duke Harrington in the Current wrote a nice piece that collects session predictions from eight lawmakers in our region.
Mal Leary has been the dean of the state house press corps for some time now, so it’s very appropriate that Mal has joined forces with MPBN to start up a state house television system, much like C-SPAN ( Mainebiz). I hope the service will be up and running soon so everyone can see more of what actually goes on under the dome.
State Policy round-up:
- Budget: The current state budget is in the red so the Governor proposed a series of cuts called a ‘curtailment.’ Coverage in the PPH, BDN and on MPBN, and reaction from Mayor Brennan ( BDN, MPBN, PDS). K-12 school impacts will be significant ( PPH, BDN, MPBN, Current) along with DHHS reductions ( PPH). The Appropriations Committee met to review the Governor’s proposals ( PPH, BDN, LSJ, MPBN). Representatives Sirocki and Sanborn traded opinions on how to approach state budget issues. Sen. Roger Katz spoke about the budget on WGAN, while Rep. Matthew Pouliot also weighed in.
The federal government issued a split decision on the administration’s request for approval of several cuts to MaineCare ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) — Appropriations Committee Senate Chair Dawn Hill discussed the impacts on WGAN and the PPH editors commented. Resulting DHHS cuts are coming ( PPH).
And of course on Friday the governor’s proposed two-year budget was unveiled. Here’s coverage in the PPH, BDN, BDN and on MPBN and comment from the BDN, LSJ and PPH editors. And here’s additional coverage of the proposed suspension of municipal revenue sharing for two years ( PPH, LSJ, BDN).
- Bonds: The battle over issuing already-approved bonds may be coming soon with a bipartisan bill ( LSJ).
- Economic Development: The latest bad ranking from Forbes for Maine’s business climate continued to produces comment from Dan Demeritt, the PPH editors and the BDN editors. The governor said he agreed with Forbes and called for action ( BDN). The BDN editors reflected on the pros and cons of lists.
Professor Charlie Colgan offered his economic forecast for 2013 ( BDN, MPBN, PPH). Mainebiz got four other economists to join Colgan in offering their predictions. J. Scott Moody looked at Maine’s worsening demographics. Amy Stursberg and John Voltz discussed the Blackstone initiative to boost small business growth.
- Education: The BDN’s Robert Long predicted a charter school battle; he was right. While the governor was calling for more charter schools ( PPH, BDN) four of five new charter applications were denied ( PPH), drawing an angry response from the governor ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) and concerned ones from Commissioner Bowen ( BDN and on WGAN) and other supporters ( PPH). Analysis came from Chris Cousins in the BDN and comment from Bill Nemitz and from the LSJ editors on how many charters we need.
Other comment on education issues included the BDN editors on collaboration with local officials, Commissioner Bowen on continuing K-12 consolidation ( LSJ) (the BDN’s Mario Moretto offered a good analysis of past, current and future consolidation efforts), Charles Lawton on rising competition in public education, Theo Kalikow on reforming higher education, Lawton again on solving the skills gap problem and University of Maine President Paul Ferguson (at Eggs & Issues) presenting his Blue Sky initiative ( BDN).
- Energy: House Minority Leader Ken Fredette offered an energy plan for Maine designed to save serious money for consumers ( KJ). The governor’s Director of Energy Policy Ken Fletcher retired and was immediately replaced by Patrick Woodcock, a former staffer for Sen. Snowe ( BDN). Paper mill leaders are concerned that the LePage administration’s plans to change Maine’s renewable energy policies could hurt their businesses ( LSJ).
- Environmental: DEP is looking for nominations for the annual Governor’s Awards for Environmental Excellence ( PPH). The deadline is Feb. 22 — nomination forms are right here. If you know a business from our region that deserves recognition why not fill out the simple form and given them a chance at winning? (And yes, self-nomination is encouraged, so please don’t be shy.)
- Health Care: As lawmakers struggle with yearly MaineCare budget problems, a long-term solution hasn’t been on the front burner. However, a recent task force report suggested a number of reforms that could significantly contribute to making MaineCare more affordable — the BDN editors explained.
- Labor: A new law went into effect that redefines independent contractor status — if you are one or you use one, read up ( BDN).
- Regulatory Reform: The Maine Regulatory Fairness Board made two simple but significant reform proposals, including an end to ‘surprise’ visits from regulators ( BDN).
- Small Business: SMCC is hosting its Launch or Grow Small Business Success Conference ( website) on Friday, Jan. 25. Small business owners, and anyone thinking about starting a small business, are encouraged to attend. Gorham Savings Bank has started a business competition called LaunchPad ( BDN). With that, $30,000 is up for grabs, and the submission deadline is Jan. 25. Visit the LaunchPad website for full information.
- Tax: With questions being asked about their status ( BDN, Jean-Marie Caterina) the governor took to YouTube to defend the tax cuts enacted in the last legislature ( PPH, BDN, LSJ, MPBN). The PPH and BDN editors both commented.
- Transportation: Mike Bosse reinforced the message from the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2012 update on Maine’s infrastructure — we’re in trouble and we need to take immediate action. The PPH editors agreed.
- Welfare Reform: The governor unveiled new proposals to restrict felons’ access to welfare ( PPH, BDN). Prior to those proposals the BDN editors had voiced a different view of further welfare reform.
Around the Region: The BDN’s Matt Stone took an interesting look at urban versus suburban state aid — who’s getting what?
In Cape Elizabeth, officials are looking at new approaches to large projects ( Forecaster).
In Cumberland, visit the Town’s website for news, events and community updates.
In Falmouth, Route 1 stormwater issues are on the agenda for 2013 ( Forecaster).
- The Fire Department will be reviewed by an outside consultant ( PPH);
- Progress continued toward bring back a Portland-Nova Scotia ferry ( PPH, Forecaster);
- New Tax Increment Financing guidelines are nearing completion ( PDS);
- The number of homeless in Portland were clarified ( BDN);
- Abortion protestors, and counter-protestors, may trigger buffer zones ( PPH, Forecaster and PPH editors comment); 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 Scarborough, a new recreation area off Payne Road may be acquired ( Forecaster).
Feedback: So what do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email to share your feedback with me — and thank you!
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