With the state house largely at ease this week let’s take a look around the region at some of the advocacy work being done at the local level by our Community Chambers.
To begin with, it’s worth noticing that the vast majority of municipal advocacy is done by our volunteers. That means we have Chamber members attending local meetings, sitting down to discuss issues with elected officials and staying in touch with the broader community’s interests. It’s truly a grassroots effort by our Community Chamber volunteers.
Another notable thing is the absence of conflict. Community Chambers work hard to find common ground – it’s a rare thing to hear folks arguing. In fact, almost every local advocacy effort begins with education: First of our members get educated, and then they help educate others in the community.
Education leads to employers giving elected officials and municipal staff their perspectives. Often public officials reach out to our Chambers to find out what Main Street thinks about a new issue. And from that process you’ll usually see an agreement – often a compromise – that melds our members’ views into the whole community’s. Right now the Scarborough Community Chamber is working with the Scarborough Economic Development Corp. and the Town Council to implement an economic development plan, much like the Portland Community Chamber is doing with City Hall and Mayor Brennan. The Falmouth/Cumberland Community Chamber has been working effectively on Route 1 changes, and is planning an educational workshop on the project’s finances. The Westbrook/Gorham Community Chamber is re-forming its advocacy team, while the South Portland/Cape Elizabeth Community Chamber is helping to find members for the City’s comprehensive planning implementation effort.
That’s five Community Chambers, active in eight municipalities, with over 150 volunteers contributing to make sure that local government and businesses are working together to improve our economy and support our communities. If you want to be a part of all this, just let me know.
Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:
With the session about half way done Senator Troy Jackson and Rep. Ken Fredette each wrote about how the legislature is doing this year. Their views are worth reading, and keeping in mind when the partisan winds blow.
Spotlight Legislation: Only three committees have work scheduled this week at the state house – click here to see what’s happening. Next week things go back into overdrive (use the same link, but enter ‘April 22’ to see over 180 public hearings and work sessions).
Comment on the tone at the state house, the Governor’s approach to the legislative process and the link to the next election came from the BDN editors, Greg Kesich, Alan Caron, Matt Gagnon and Mike Cuzzi. Elsewhere:
State Policy round-up:
- Bonds: The Mayors’ Coalition pushed for their bond package of transportation, R&D and education investments ( PPH, BDN, MPBN).
- Budget: The Taxation Committee voted along party lines against recommending approval of the Governor’s proposed cuts in residential property tax relief programs ( BDN) and revenue sharing ( BDN). Republican lawmakers tried to explain the need for revenue sharing cuts, at least for now ( BDN).
- Economic Development: J. Scott Moody discussed demographics he termed ‘grim’. Charles Lawton looked at the cost of hiring. The Governor invited gun manufacturers to come to Maine ( PPH, BDN).
- Education: Debate over the funding of charter schools continued ( PPH, BDN) – charters are already having a negative impact on some public schools ( PPH). The Governor’s proposal to establish a legal defense fund for the Charter School Commission was rejected ( PPH), and his plan for an A to F report card for public schools drew opposition ( PPH, BDN, PPH). The rules for virtual charter schools are under development ( BDN). Local school insurance rates are reflecting experience ratings ( PPH).
- Energy: Businesses turned out in support of proposals to expand natural gas availability in Maine, lowering electricity costs ( BDN).
- Environment: Hearings were held on shipping southern Maine trash to Old Town ( BDN, MPBN).
- Health Care: Rep. Heather Sirocki wrote to oppose expansion of Medicaid in Maine.
- Labor: With LD 611, the minimum wage increase bill, on his desk the Governor said he hadn’t decided whether to sign it or not ( BDN, PPH) – Tom Zimmerman and Robert Seeber weighed in. The Governor met with unemployment insurance hearing officers, touching off controversy ( PPH, LSJ, MPBN). Reaction from the Governor ( BDN), follow up ( LSJ, PPH), and Jen Duddy on WGAN.
- Small Business: Gorham Savings Bank announced that Pika Energy, a Gorham-based wind power company, won the 2013 LaunchPad competition ( BDN).
- Tax: Local officials spoke in favor of bills to restore state funding of municipal revenue sharing ( PPH).
- Transportation: A bill to investigate Portland to Auburn rail investments had its hearing ( LSJ). At the state house the Maine Turnpike Authority took some heat for toll increases ( MPBN).
Around the Region: GoLocal rated South Portland and Portland as the number 2 and 3 cities respectively in New England ( BDN). USM is in the middle of budget reductions ( PPH, BDN). Lease negotiations continued at the Cumberland County Civic Center ( PPH, PDS). Elsewhere:
- In Cape Elizabeth the school budget contains a trial all-day kindergarten proposal ( Forecaster).
- In Cumberland the Council acted on several matters last week ( Forecaster).
- In Falmouth the Council sent Route 1 changes to the voters in a June 11 referendum ( Forecaster).
- In Gorham security spending came first in the school budget ( PPH, Current).
- In Portland an initial hearing on the proposed school budget drew opposition ( PPH), and revisions are planned ( Forecaster). Elsewhere:
- Baxter Academy got its go-ahead from the Maine Charter School Commission ( PPH, BDN);
- A ban on polystyrene food containers advanced last week ( PDS);
- Work continued on implementing the homelessness task force recommendations ( PDS);
- Techie.com named Portland one of the country’s ‘10 most unexpected hi-tech cities’ ( BDN); 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 the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee is looking for volunteers ( Forecaster). The Council asked for detailed data regarding the proposed school budget ( Current, Forecaster).
- In Scarborough a public hearing on the proposed municipal and school budgets drew opposition ( Forecaster). The Council expanded the Town’s property tax assistance program ( Current).
- In Westbrook the proposed municipal budget is essentially flat ( 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.