State budget choices need your input

Posted April 29, 2013, at 11:34 a.m.
Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber
Courtesy/Portland Regional Chamber
Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber

Negotiations over the next 2-year state budget are in a critical phase, and the next six weeks will result in either a bipartisan agreement that leaves everyone less than happy, or a partisan divide that fails to produce a budget.

Undoubtedly our region will be better served by an agreement than by a budget failure, but that leaves a wide variety of outcomes possible, including smaller government and higher taxes.

Last week legislative committees continued to deliver party-line rejections of large parts of the Governor’s proposed budget (human services ( BDN), education ( BDN, PPH)), while proposals to raise taxes to fill budget holes were heard ( BDN, PPH editors), and some suggested more spending, not less ( BDN).

The Governor responded by calling on municipalities to cut spending to accommodate his proposed reductions of state aid to towns ( PPH, BDN, WGAN), and Sen. Richard Woodbury offered a sweeping tax reform bill that he hopes might provide common ground for a budget deal ( BDN).

To make matters even more difficult, last Friday the state’s Revenue Forecasting Committee lowered expected state tax revenues in the next two years by $60 million dollars. That’s money state budget writers will have to add to their workload ( PPH, BDN).

The Governor wants smaller, less costly state and local government, as do many in his party. Many municipal leaders and Democrats at the state house have urged higher state income and sales taxes to avoid local property tax increases. Senator Woodbury looks to comprehensive tax reform to solve state budget problems, and to support a stronger economy.

There are profound choices being made in the next six weeks, and your local legislators need to hear what you think. You don’t need to be an expert to have an opinion, and your opinion matters. To make your voice heard use our links to your local leaders and tell them which direction they should take the state budget debate, and our communities, in the weeks ahead.

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

Health care makes up more than 20 percent of Maine’s economy – in 2009 we spent over $11 billion dollars on health care in our state. And those numbers are growing, making per-person health care spending in Maine the 5th highest in the nation.

Matthew Stone in the BDN took an in-depth look at what this means to businesses, state budgets and our economy. If you want a good understanding of how important health care is to us all, read Matt’s article.

Spotlight Legislation: This week there are 136 bills up for public hearing, and even more work sessions. The full list is here. Highlights include (but are by no means limited to):

  1. On Monday LD 1393, a thoughtful effort from Sen. Richard Woodbury to support entrepreneurial investment in Maine, gets a hearing before Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future Committee;
  1. Also on Monday the Taxation Committee holds hearings on a set of bills proposing new tax credits to encourage tourism, seed capital investments and internships, and on LD 1463, a concept bill aimed at setting parameters for tax expenditures;
  1. And on Friday the Health and Human Services Committee will hear several bills dealing with municipal general assistance.

In the State House: Democrat leaders said Friday they were linking expansion of Medicaid in Maine to passage of the Governor’s hospital repayment plan ( PPH, BDN), prompting the Governor to say that Democrats were ‘jumping the gun’ ( BDN); he appeared on WGAN on Saturday to discuss the situation. Sen. Garrett Mason called for passage of the Governor’s plan.

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said she would not run for Governor in 2014 ( PPH, BDN). The LSJ editors discussed the use of anonymous sources. Lawmakers are set to study expansion of on-line process in the legislature ( BDN). The Governor will meet with all 16 County Sheriffs to discuss problems with jail consolidation ( LSJ).

State Policy round-up:

Ballot watch: Several bills proposing run-off elections at the state level had public hearings last week ( MPBN).

  1. Economic Development: Maine Angels, a private equity group, received recognition last week for their contributions to business growth ( PDS). The Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future Committee heard a different take on workforce preparation from Fletcher Kittredge ( PPH). Alan Caron discussed how to unify parts of our future economy and Charles Lawton reflected on how ingenuity will drive the next Maine economy.
  1. Education: The Governor announced plans to release letter grades (A through F) for every school in Maine ( PPH) – Mike Tipping criticized the move. After a delay in the state laptop program ( PPH) the Governor dumped Apple in favor of HP laptops for classrooms ( PPH, BDN). Debate continued over if, or how much, student performance should be a part of teacher evaluations ( BDN). A bill to allow ‘teacher-led schools’ was heard ( MPBN).

The UMS budget was examined by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting ( BDN), and UMS officials reacted ( BDN). Matt Hongoltz-Hetling in the KJ explored mass customized learning in action in Maine. David Silvernail discussed college prep performance of Maine high schools on MPBN, and Rep. Jeff McCabe wrote about the equities of charter school funding.

  1. Energy: Lawmakers are seeking a bipartisan agreement on ways to lower energy costs in Maine ( PPH).
  1. Environment: Seth Koenig in the BDN wrote a deep piece on solid waste technologies, policies and regional impacts. The BDN editors followed up with comment on the economic opportunities that our solid waste streams offer, and the PPH looked at the lobbying on solid waste and other issues. A report showed that Maine’s air quality has improved ( BDN).
  1. Health Care: South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins wrote in support of expanding Medicaid in Maine. Tighter regulations on compounding pharmacies were proposed, and opposed ( PPH, MPBN).
  1. Labor: Two ‘right to work’ bills were rejected by lawmakers in the House ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) and the Senate ( BDN). The Governor appointed a Commission to study Maine’s unemployment insurance system ( BDN).

While the Governor denied any impropriety ( BDN, MPBN), lawmakers decided to wait to decide whether they will investigate the Governor’s meeting with unemployment insurance hearing officers ( LSJ, PPH, BDN, MPBN). The PPH editors and David Farmer commented on the situation.

  1. Tax: Tourism leaders spoke out against several bills that proposed raising taxes on hospitality services ( BDN).

Around the Region: The Finance Authority of Maine helped two local businesses retain and expand jobs ( BDN). Maine International Trade Day on May 31st will feature a talk by Iceland’s President ( PPH). The PPH editors praised the new lease between the Portland Pirates and the Civic Center. Elsewhere:

  1. In Cape Elizabeth the proposed budget for next year is up for public hearing tonight ( PPH).
  1. In Falmouth funding plans for the Route 1 expansion are final ( Forecaster). Today is the deadline for filing papers to run for local office in town ( Forecaster).
  1. In Portland the City Council voted 9-0 to approve Bayside zoning changes that allow the ‘Midtown’ project to go forward. It was an important statement that, despite objections, the Council remained unified in promoting growth in the City ( PPH, BDN, PDS, Forecaster, Mark McAuliffe’s op-ed in support). Elsewhere:
  1. Developers of the Eastland Hotel renovation presented a new proposal for Congress Square Plaza, providing quality improvements to the public space ( PPH, PDS, Forecaster) – the PPH editors praised the new proposal.
  1. Mayor Brennan announced an upcoming branding campaign for Portland at our Trade Show ( PPH);
  1. The School Board voted unanimously to approve Superintendent Caulk’s proposed budget for next year ( PPH);
  1. Baxter Academy’s enrollment is below expectations ( PPH); and
  1. 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 the Council has filled a number of committee seats ( Current).
  1. In Scarborough revised municipal and school budgets were reviewed last week ( Forecaster, Current). Additional school budget details were revealed ( 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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