PRC Speaks Out

Forbes highlights Portland, what the census data tells us, goings-on in Augusta, and more

Posted March 18, 2013, at 9:12 a.m.
Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber
Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber

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.

Forbes Magazine rated our region the best place in the country – yes the country – to look for a job this spring, based on a Manpower survey of CEO hiring plans. (Read the article and follow up coverage in the PPH and BDN). 27 percent of CEO’s in our region plan to hire, 66 percent think they will remain at current levels, 4 percent anticipate reductions and 3 percent are undecided.

The entire country is hiring this spring, so our forecast sits atop a national trend that is long, long overdue. It’s a good sign that the greater Portland region (which included Biddeford in this survey) is poised for growth in 2013, but don’t miss Charles Lawton’s reality check.

Whatever actually happens, more hiring will require a qualified workforce. That’s why I’ll be submitting testimony this morning at the state house in support of LD 90, the Joint Select Committee on Maine Workforce and Economic Future’s working draft for all their policy ideas to improve workforce training in Maine. Read the draft here.

Highlights include the Maine Industry Partnership program, a plan to coordinate the welter of existing public, private and non-profit efforts into a unified approach that focuses resources on Maine’s most promising economic clusters. The draft also targets substantial funding to the university and community college systems to open existing training bottlenecks in order to bring adult learners back to school, and back to economic opportunity.

We learned this week that our demographics continue to challenge us, with many counties in Maine still losing people and our overall population all but stagnant (BDN, PPH editors comment). The latest census data simply reinforces the need for business, education and government to work more effectively and efficiently to bring as many Maine people as we can into the current and future economy.

Forbes did us right last week – next week, who knows? But the important thing is to stay focused on connecting business and education at every level to make sure our all our citizens have the best shot at prosperity, and all our employers have the best chance to grow in Maine.

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

Dr. James H. Page is Chancellor of the University of Maine System. He wrote last week in the BDN to reflect on his first full year in office, and to describe the benchmarks of success for the system, and for Maine.

Spotlight Legislation: Last week the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee heard testimony on LD 611, a bill to raise the minimum wage in Maine to $8.50 per hour and index future increases to cost of living changes. Read coverage in the BDN and on MPBN. Rep. Scott Hamman discussed his bill on WGAN with Ethan Strimling.

Peter Gore of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce spoke for many employers as he opposed the bill: “Our economy just doesn’t support that kind of wage an hour increase … From an economic standpoint, raising it by a dollar and indexing it annually, putting that element on automatic pilot, that’s just a bad idea.”

The Committee has scheduled a work session for the bill for this Friday March 22nd. If you want to make your voice heard on increasing the minimum wage use the link above to contact Committee members, or scroll down to find links to contact your local lawmakers.

In the State House: The Governor testified at the public hearing on his hospital repayment liquor bond plan (PPH, BDN), while Democrats presented an alternative plan (PPH, BDN, MPBN). Later in the week, the Governor offered an amendment to address constitutional concerns (BDN), but rejected the Democrat’s alternative (PPH, BDN). Comment came from the editors of the PPH and LSJ, along with Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, and Gerry Reid and Michael Cianchette, all on WGAN, and in print Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, Phil Bartlett, Mike Cuzzi, Doug Rooks and Mike Tipping.

As the debate continued hospitals explained why they need the late payments from state government (PPH), but some lawmakers are asking questions about hospital finances (BDN).

State Policy round-up: Gov. LePage and Sen. Emily Cain are working together to bring greater disclosure requirements for elected and appointed state officials (PPH). In the BDN, Robert Long looked at partisan bickering in the state house, and whether it is impacting lawmakers’ work.

  • Ballot watch: An effort to eliminate ‘leadership PACs’ got only one vote in support in Committee (BDN). The PPH editors wrote in support of the Maine Clean Elections Act.
  • Budget: You can read my testimony on municipal revenue sharing and BETR cuts here. It was part of an all-day hearing last week ( BDN, PPH, MPBN). Lawmakers are working to find ways to avoid pushing state budget cuts back onto the property tax, either raising local taxes or cutting needed services, and hurting our business climate.

While the administration tried to include a zero-based approach in this budget, it wasn’t entirely able to do so (BDN). House Democrats have set up a very detailed budget tracking webpage – of course it only reflects their own perspectives on budget issues.

  • Economic Development: As noted above the Joint Select Committee on Maine Workforce and Economic Future spent last week finalizing its first draft of policy recommendations after hearing from hundreds of experts and interests ( BDN, PPH). Alan Caron discussed state development incentives, and how to re-focus them. MPBN looked at the state’s R&D gap.
  • Education: State officials are considering a move from laptops to iPads (LSJ). Robert Enlow and J. Scott Moody wrote in support of school choice – David Lentini wrote to take issue with them. I offered a few thoughts on workforce training (PPH).
  • Energy: For the third year in a row a bill has been submitted to expand the number of energy providers who would qualify for ‘renewable’ status under current Maine law (LSJ). The LePage administration continues to see the bill as a way to lower energy costs. Michael Stoddard explained how his agency, Efficiency Maine, is the state’s lowest cost energy source.
  • Environment: Democratic leaders at the state house are considering a reinstatement of global climate change adaptation work at DEP (PPH).
  • Health Care: After rejecting an expansion of Medicaid in Maine early this year, the Governor indicated that expansion might be possible (PPH, BDN). The BDN editors were encouraged, Sen. Geoff Gratwick and Sherriff Kevin Joyce both wrote in support, and progress seemed to be happening last week (PPH). Jon McKane withdrew from consideration for appointment to the Dirigo Health Board ( BDN, PPH). A bill to ease existing certificate of need requirements was rejected in Committee on a party-line vote (BDN).
  • Small Business: Gorham Savings Bank announced the seven semi-finalists in its LaunchPad competition – all 7 will make live presentations on March 21st as they compete for the $30,000 dollar top prize ( BDN).
  • Tax: Chris Cousins in the BDN did a nice job digging into the complexities of collecting sales tax on e-commerce in Maine. It’s a big priority for bricks and mortar retailers in our state who face a competitive disadvantage if online sales aren’t taxed the same way sales in stores are. Lawmakers are looking at solutions.
  • Workers Comp: First bad news, then good news last week, at least for many employers: On Monday the Bureau of Insurance approved a 3.9% workers comp rate hike (BDN). On Thursday the Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co. announced that its 60% of the market won’t have to pay the increase because the company will absorb the increase itself (BDN). If you’re a MEMIC customer, say thanks to your rep next time to talk to him or her.

Around the Region: Something very important happened last week with relatively little attention paid in the press. We talk a lot about regionalization as a key to more effective, less costly local government, so when it happens we should celebrate.

The towns of Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth had a joint Council meeting last week to advance a natural gas agreement with Summit Gas. When finalized, the agreement will lead to a collaborative permitting and licensing system where all three towns will work as one to expand natural gas availability to their region (Forecaster).

Each town has posted extensive materials on the natural gas effort – see their websites: Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth. While much remains to be done, the way these three communities are working together provides us all with the latest example of what regional collaboration can accomplish.

In other news … Last week we saw municipal budgets under pressure from state aid cuts, and this week there are several stories below on local K-12 school budgets in the same predicament. The effort to bring rail service from Portland to Auburn is continuing – a new price estimate was released by advocates (BDN). And:

  • In Falmouth a second forum on Route 1 changes drew a small crowd (Forecaster). For lots of information about the changing Route 1 plan visit the Town’s webpage.
  • In Gorham the initial school budget was unveiled – staff cuts and tax increases are proposed as a result of shrinking state aid (PPH, Current).
  • In Portland Eimskip brought its first container ship into port (BDN, PPH). The company’s CEO discussed his business’s fit with the City (PPH). Elsewhere:
    • USM is facing a new $5 million dollar budget shortfall challenge (PPH) – Theo Kalikow used a parable to shape a response;
    • Portland School Superintendent Manny Caulk presented his budget for next year that contains cuts and increases (PPH, BDN);
    • The Bayside ‘Midtown’ development is working on a height amendment (PPH) and the Planning Board paused its process to consider the request (PPH);
    • A task force got to work to consider a ban on foam packaging in Portland (Forecaster, PDS) – the PPH editors endorsed a ban; 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 officials presented two school budget options (Forecaster). Michael Pock won election to the Council (Forecaster, Current). A Council hearing on tar sands drew a big crowd (PPH, MPBN, Current).
  • In Scarborough the first draft school budget included a large tax hike (Forecaster).
  • In Westbrook the first look at next year’s school budget showed a substantial increase (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.

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.

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.

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