Gridlock in Augusta reveals need for local engagement, workforce development in the spotlight, and more

By Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber
Posted March 04, 2013, at 2:57 p.m.

Editor’s note: This report is compiled weekly 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.

As you’ll see in the State House section below, things are getting heated in Augusta with talk of state government shutdown and blanket vetoes – it’s a reminder that your local legislators and municipal officials need to hear from you now more than ever.

The Falmouth/Cumberland Community Chamber is hosting a morning legislative forum this Friday the 8th with Representatives Mark Dion, Mary Nelson, Stephen Moriarty and Senator Dick Woodbury. Lawmakers will offer their views on key issues facing them this legislative session in a relaxed Q&A format. It’s a perfect opportunity for community members to share their thoughts, and hear what their lawmakers are thinking. Register here.

Our partners at the South Portland/Cape Elizabeth Community Chamber have their eye on the upcoming March 12th South Portland council election. The SPCE Chamber is hosting an evening City Council Candidates Forum on Tuesday the 5th for everyone running for the open District One City Council Seat. The forum will be televised on SPC-TV, but you can attend in person too ( register here). SPCE Chamber President Mike Vaillancourt will moderate – if you have candidate questions email Mike at mvaillancourt@atrlaw.pro.

In addition to these public events, our Community Chambers regularly hold private meetings with local lawmakers and municipal leaders. Our Grasstops advocacy program, led by Chamber volunteers, has already met with many of our elected officials this year to share community thinking about state and local budgets, education and workforce improvement, and regional economic growth strategies.

Those are our priorities, and I’m confident our state and local leaders share them. But shared goals still need constant dialogue to remain on track, and with state house rhetoric getting hotter it has never been a better time to seek out your local officials ( click here to find them) to share your own thoughts about what will make our region and our state as successful as possible.

Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:

As the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future moves closer to reducing the 100+ policy recommendations they’ve received from a month of public testimony into a set of ideas for legislative action, an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News by Sandra S. Butler, Luisa S. Deprez and John Dorrer, three experts on workforce development, offered a compelling case for expanding something that already works – the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program.

Committee members will read this piece – if you’re interested in their work you may want to read it too.

Spotlight Legislation: On Monday March 11th the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee will begin hearings on the Governor’s proposed two-year state budget. LR 1046 is a BIG piece of legislation – if you want to get your head around it you may want to read the summary provided by non-partisan staff at the Office of Fiscal and Program Review.

And here are more two-year state budget resources from the administration, including summaries, fiscal and economic forecasts and debt analysis.

Big budget issues will move to the hearing schedule quickly – for instance the proposed changes to the BETR/BETE program are up for hearing on Wednesday the 13th in the afternoon, along with other tax policy changes.

If you are interested in following the budget use the OFPR link above to get schedules, written materials and audio links to the public hearings. And if you have input for committee members, and for your local lawmakers, don’t wait too long to share it.

In the State House: Last week’s mention of the possibility of a state government shutdown prompted the BDN’s Robert Long to look at the emerging tone of debate in the state house, while Ginette Rivard reacted to a possible shutdown from the state worker perspective.

On Friday, the Governor announced he would veto every bill that comes to him until lawmakers agree to his hospital funding proposal ( PPH, BDN, LSJ, MPBN) – Democratic leaders reacted right away ( BDN, MPBN, Senate President Justin Alfond and Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall both on WGAN), and the editors at the BDN and PPH did too. Meanwhile two businesses criticized Sen. Goodall’s competing bill that separates a new liquor deal from hospital repayment ( LSJ).

Steve Mistler in the PPH looked at several bills aimed at making government information less accessible, while the LSJ’s Kathryn Skelton examined how the demand for public access to government data is growing.

State Policy round-up:

  1. Ballot watch: The proposed 2-year state budget zero’s out the Maine Clean Election fund ( BDN).
  2. Budget: Sen. Roger Katz proposed a bill to sidestep the Governor’s proposed elimination of municipal revenue sharing. Katz’s bill would bring the program back to full funding in three years, but for now the bill lacks a funding source ( PPH, MPBN).

Rep. Mike Carey and Sen. Emily Cain rejected calls for an up-or-down vote on the Governor’s budget. The Governor’s proposal to shift K-12 teacher retirement costs off the state budget and onto municipal property taxes drew hard questions from lawmakers ( PPH). One side effect of budget austerity has been greater difficulty in hiring state workers, and keeping the talented ones ( BDN). For more budget news check out February’s Fiscal News.

  1. Economic Development: J.P. Morgan predicted a slow recovery for Maine from the lingering recession ( Mainebiz). Alan Caron wrote about innovation and small business.
  2. Education: The Governor’s reprise of a voucher proposal brought the issue back to the front burner ( PPH, BDN). The state’s high school graduation rate increased for the third consecutive year ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) – Commissioner Bowen discussed the progress on WGAN. Edward Valente wrote about the skills gap, challenging businesses to do more.
  3. Energy: Tux Turkel looked at the numbers behind the Governor’s proposal to use RGGI fees to pay for changing residential heating fuel systems ( PPH).
  4. Environmental: A proposed ban on state government purchases of bottled water got a skeptical reception ( BDN).
  1. Health Care: Matt Stone at the BDN took a careful look at the pros and cons of expanding Medicaid eligibility in Maine, something the Governor continues to resist – the BDN editors commented in support of expansion, as did the PPH editors.

The BDN’s Jackie Farwell dug into the rate impacts on individual insurance of PL 90, the Republican state-level health care reform passed in 2011. J. Scott Moody wrote in support of the law’s positive impacts.

  1. Labor: A study from the Maine People’s Alliance, a liberal think tank, found Maine wages were low and jobs were scarce ( PPH, BDN). Charles Lawton wrote about the slow job growth in Maine.
  2. Pension reform: The PPH’s Eric Russell looked in depth at ‘double dipping’ on state pensions (drawing a pension check and working for the state at the same time), and how lawmakers may change the current system.
  3. Small Business: A bill to make shoplifting less of a crime was vigorously opposed by retailers ( BDN). Robert Shaffer wrote about new regulations that could hurt small bed & breakfasts. Build A Biz, a Portland-based non-profit, wants to create a new Maine specialty license plate to promote youth entrepreneurial programs ( LSJ).
  4. Tax: A proposal to increase Maine estate taxes was met with support and opposition at its public hearing last week ( BDN). Pierce Atwood’s Jon Block discussed economic development tax policy on WGAN with former Governor Baldacci.
  5. Transportation: There are now 9 bills before the legislature to make changes to Maine’s business signs and billboard laws ( PPH).
  6. Welfare reform: The BDN editors promoted welfare reform recommendations from the General Assistance Work Group.

Bring Yours Back Home!: The Conventions + Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland has launched a new effort to get YOU to help bring more convention business to our region – it’s called ‘Bring Yours Back Home!’ The idea is simple – if you attend a convention out of state, how about trying to get the next one to come to our area? Check out the campaign’s YouTube spot to learn more.

To get involved please go to the CVB website www.meetinmaine.com and fill out the form to share the names of programs that you are currently traveling to. It is that simple. Everyone who contributes is eligible for prizes. Anything from a Two Fat Cats signature Whoopie pie to a Maine Getaway!

Let’s all work together to continue making this a vibrant, livable community by strengthening our economy and keeping the job market strong!

Around the Region: Town Councils in Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth have endorsed a proposal from Summit Natural Gas ( Forecaster, PPH). PACTS is conducting a transit survey aimed at simplifying public transportation services ( Forecaster).

  1. In Cumberland, officials are trying to hold the line on spending in the next municipal budget ( Forecaster).
  2. In Falmouth, the Forecaster took a closer look at changes in the Council’s membership as the upcoming June election draws nearer.
  3. In Portland, the Portland ConnectED initiative that I highlighted last week got good press coverage ( PPH, BDN, MPBN, PDS) – the Portland Phoenix commented favorably and Greg Kesich saw the initiative as a product of having an elected Mayor. Elsewhere:
  1. Mayor Brennan and City Planning Director Jeff Levine announced ‘predevelopment office hours’ for real estate people with a new proposal that needs a first look by City regulators, something that may sound arcane until you consider that, for the first time, the City will have a defined way to scope and evaluate new development projects. It’s a big deal if it leads to more investment in Portland ( BDN, PDS, press release with lots of details).
  2. Revised changes to Congress Street traffic and bus logistics were approved by the Council ( PPH, PDS, Forecaster);
  3. Proposals to provide housing for the homeless are moving ahead ( PPH);
  4. School cuts resulting from state budget reductions are being implemented ( PPH); and
  5. 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.
  1. In South Portland, a first look at upcoming budgets left officials with many questions ( Forecaster). The Forecaster profiled candidates for the March 12th Council election. A new public works HQ remains in the planning stage, but officials are moving toward a strategy ( Forecaster, Current).

Contact your local officials: Visit our website to find links to all your municipal and state house officials. Remember – if you don’t speak out, the people who represent you have no way to know what you think. So keep those email, calls and visits coming.

Back issues: Miss a Policy Update? Want to find that story or link that you lost track of? Just click here for recent back issues of Policy Update.

Feedback: 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!

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. For more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber just click here.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/03/04/business/gridlock-in-augusta-reveals-need-for-local-engagement-workforce-development-in-the-spotlight-and-more/ printed on July 29, 2014