PRC Speaks Out

Portland chamber to continue advocacy, digging deeper at the State House and spotlight legislation

Posted March 11, 2013, at 9:10 a.m.
Last modified March 11, 2013, at 11:05 a.m.

While the transition to my new role as CEO continues I’ve had a number of folks ask about our plans for advocacy at the Portland Regional Chamber. Will we continue our advocacy program? Will we hire a new lobbyist? Is the advocacy program ending?

Good questions, and here are some quick answers.

First, no, we are not ending our advocacy program. Not at all. These updates will continue, and our participation in key state house debates will remain unchanged. We’ll continue to be your voice on the issues that impact our region, such as this week’s biennial budget hearings.

Second, for now, we are not hiring a new full time staff lobbyist. My 23 years of state house experience gives us the ability to stay connected to Augusta in an effective, efficient way. But down the road it’s likely we’ll need to hire lobbying help, especially when our region has a particular state house project that requires a constant presence in Augusta. When those needs arrive we’ll make the necessary additions.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before, our focus is on our region, first and foremost. This is a direction defined by our Board and connected to our top priorities, regional economic growth and regional workforce and educational excellence. There are many regional issues at the state house that we will still address from our own perspective. On statewide issues of general business concern we’ll work more closely with other local and regional Chambers, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, to make our voice a part of the larger business community voice. And in every case we’ll continue to make sure that you have the information and the connections to make your own voice heard by local legislators and State House leaders. Of all the voices in Augusta, yours remains the most powerful.

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

The Maine Development Foundation supports the Maine Economic Growth Council, and last week the Council issued its annual report on 26 indicators of economic health in our state. If you want to know how Maine is doing, read: Measures of Growth in Focus 2013

This isn’t a casual national ranking. Instead it’s a thoughtful look at what matters most for Maine’s prosperity. And since the Council has issued an annual report for almost 20 years they have a long-term perspective that no other group can provide.

Digging Deeper at the State House: Most of you probably don’t want to find daily schedules at the state house, research copies of every piece of testimony submitted at every public hearing, track the status of a particular bill, find contact info for Committees, or House members, or Senators, or listen to public hearings on the computer, or watch selected state house proceedings on MPBN’s Capitol Connection. But if you do, just follow the links. The state house is increasingly accessible to the public, at least to those who put in a little work.

Spotlight Legislation: Wednesday’s public hearings on the Governor’s proposals to eliminate municipal revenue sharing and reduce the BETR/BETE program will grab the headlines, but almost 100 other public hearings, and another 100 work sessions, are scheduled for next week – see the full list here (you’ll need to enter the correct dates in the sidebar tool).

One bill of interest to our region – and to other coastal communities – is LD 470, An Act Regarding Working Waterfront Projects. The bill offers a balance between development of working waterfront property and amendment of existing environmental laws that may do more than needed to provide resource protection. LD 470 is up for public hearing on Wednesday the 13th at 1 p.m. before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee (Cross Office Building Room 216). The Portland Regional Chamber will join the City of Portland in support of the bill.

In the State House: Last week, U.S Representative Mike Michaud said he was looking at a run for Governor in 2014 ( PPH, BDN) – Greg Kesich commented. Chancellor Page, President Fitzsimmons and President Brennan each spoke to the Legislature last week about their public higher education institutions ( PPH, BDN). Future funding levels were a central concern. The Governor’s determination to not sign bills until his hospital debt plan is resolved immediately backed up routine legislation ( BDN, MPBN). See the Bonds section below for more.

State Policy round-up: Ballot watch: The BDN editors commented critically on zeroing out the Clean Elections fund in the upcoming 2-year budget. Doug Rooks looked at the impact of term limits on the current legislature.

Bonds: Debate continued over the Governor’s proposal to use a new state liquor contract to fund a revenue bond to pay off existing state debt to hospitals ( PPH, BDN, LSJ). For a better understanding of Maine’s outstanding hospital debt, and the 30-year journey that brought us to where we are today, read Matt Stone’s analysisin the BDN. The Governor took to the road to promote his plan ( PPH, MPBN) while Rep. Kathy Chase, Dan Demeritt and Gerry Reid each wrote in support of his approach. Sen. Seth Goodall promoted his alternative, but the LSJ editors took a dim view. Meanwhile the Democrats began questioning the constitutionality of the Governor’s proposal ( BDN). On another front, state house Democratic leaders called on the Governor to release several bonds that Maine voters have already approved ( PPH, BDN) – the Governor replied that he would do that once his liquor/hospital bond package was passed ( PPH). The BDN editors said the hold-up made no sense.

Budget: The Senate President and Speaker of the House wrote to call for bipartisan efforts on the upcoming 2-year budget, and rejected talk of a state government shutdown. Sen. John Patrick wrote to describe the tax increases in the Governor’s budget.

Economic Development: Ken Young discussed Maine’s demographics with an eye toward encouraging in-migration. George Smith reflected on the continuing relevance of earlier development reports. Mainebiz looked at the impact of the cap on Maine’s seed-capital tax credit. MPBN took a look at export hurdles in Maine. Charles Lawton called job creation in Maine “job 1, 2 and 3.”

Education: WEX President Mike Dubyak spoke at our Eggs & Issues last week ( PPH) about Project>Login, the effort to increase computer science graduates from the University of Maine system, encourage K-12 students to take up STEM education, and provide a template for other economic sectors to close workforce skills gaps ( PPH). He did a great job, and the PPH editors praised the effort to better connect businesses with their emerging workforce. This year the Governor’s Education Summit will feature Florida education reformers ( PPH, BDN). Jeffery Shedd urged Maine to look to Massachusetts for successful education reform. UMS Trustee Karl Turner wrote about the future of the UMaine system. The LSJ editors want to take a second look at virtual charter schools in Maine. Leslie Bridgers in the PPH reviewed how the job of school principal is getting harder to do, and to fill.

Energy: The PPH editors wrote in support of Efficiency Maine. Keep an eye on two bills up for public hearing this week before the Energy, Utilities and Technology CommitteeLD 646, An Act To Remove the 100-megawatt Limit on Renewable Sources of Energy and LD 697, An Act To Increase Maine’s Energy Competitiveness. Both are significant policy proposals that could help reduce energy costs in Maine.

Health Care: Democrats at the state house called for expansion of Medicaid in Maine, something the Governor opposes ( PPH). The Maine Medical Association agreed ( BDN, PPH), as did Susan Henderson and Irv Faunce. Outside analyses show Maine would save money over time ( BDN). Former legislator and Dirigo Health opponent Jon McKane was rejected by lawmakers for a seat on the Dirigo Health Board ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). Mike Tipping commented, and McKane appeared on WGAN. Subsequently the nomination was returned to committee for further testimony by McKane ( BDN).

Labor: Jim Bouchard wrote against a minimum wage increase from the small employer’s perspective. John Frary looked at the politics involved in the issue. Kathryn Skelton in the LSJ looked at working from home in Maine.

Small Business: LD 483, the business sign bill, had its hearing at the state house ( BDN).

Tax: Dana Connors wrote in defense of tax expenditures to support Maine’s investors and employers. Sen. Doug Thomas wrote to warn against tax increases, as did Bruce Poliquin.

Do You Know the Best Place to Work in Maine? If you do, the Maine State Council of the Society for Human Resources Management is running its annual recognition program – to enter your employer or to nominate someone else visit this link.

Around the Region: If you look below you’ll see a re-occurring theme – many of our communities are struggling to plan their upcoming municipal and school budgets in light of proposed state aid reductions in the Governor’s 2-year state budget. Renovations remain on track at the Cumberland County Civic Center ( Forecaster). Elsewhere:

In Cape Elizabeth municipal budget challenges are posed by state aid reductions (Forecaster). A new lease has been signed for Crescent Beach State Park (PPH, Forecaster, Current).

In Gorham the upcoming municipal and school budgets are going to be challenging ( Current).

In Portland proposed cuts in the Governor’s state budget will cost the City of Portland over $12 million dollars annually – if the City replaced lost state funding with property tax dollars all residents could see a property tax increase of at least $387, and some could see more than $1,000 a year ( PDS). Elsewhere:

  • The City has a new business guide – a comprehensive listing of permits, business assistance and more. If you run a business in Portland, or if you’re thinking of opening a new business in the City, read this resource (PPH story, download the guide here);
  • Baxter Academy, the City’ first charter school, ran into difficulties last week (PPH, BDN, MPBN, Forecaster, PDS, PPH editors comment);
  • A Council working group has begun (again) discussing a ban on plastic cups and bags in the City (PPH, PDS);
  • The effort to bring ferry service from Nova Scotia back to Portland took a step backward last week, but discussions continue (PPH, BDN, MPBN);
  • Major changes for Libbytown are in the works (PPH); 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 South Portland candidates for the March 12th Council election debated at the SPCE Community Chamber forum (Forecaster). The candidates were profiled in the PPH. Initial discussions of municipal and school budgets revealed concerns (Current).

In Scarborough the Council formally voted to reject the Governor’s two-year state budget. The Council also voted in support of a local option tax (Forecaster).

In Westbrookwork is ongoing on the next school budget (PPH). SAPPI is considering removal of the Saccarappa Falls dam (PPH, MPBN, Current). More plans are coming forward for re-developing the City’s west end (PPH).

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 ofPolicy 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.

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