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.
While I was putting together this week’s Update, I noticed something interesting — spring has brought us a significant number of discussions about growth in our region. Take a look at this list drawn from the news stories linked below in the Around the Region section:
- In Falmouth, voters are getting ready to cast ballots on major Route 1 renovations.
- In Scarborough, planning meetings on the future of Dunstan Corner are underway, along with new zoning proposals for a development district near Scarborough Downs.
- In South Portland, Mill Creek and Knightville are both the subject of future growth planning.
- In Westbrook, Pride’s Corner is under review.
- In Portland, Libbytown is seeing new transportation-related growth.
Additionally, there are many other efforts, including developments related to natural gas in Cumberland and Falmouth, Westbrook’s Maine Rubber redevelopment, Portland’s Bayside ‘Midtown’ project and multiple hotels, and new retailers at the Maine Mall. It adds up to some significant momentum.
We heard last week that Maine’s unemployment rate dropped below 7 percent in April — a four-year low. The recovery is certainly still slow-paced, and many people haven’t seen it yet, but it’s worth noting that progress is being made.
As we work through the difficulties that remain, it’s good to see our economy growing, along with the grass!
Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:
Christopher Lockwood is the President of the Maine Municipal Association. He wrote last week about his perspective on the state budget debate, one that most municipal leaders share. You may not agree with Lockwood, but lawmakers will continue to hear the views he expresses as they try to find a budget deal.
Spotlight Legislation: What a difference a week makes — right now there are only six bills scheduled for public hearing this week. Click here for the latest scheduling changes.
With committee work winding down, major issues are moving to the fore and nothing got more attention last week than the politics and policy surrounding hospital repayment, a new liquor contract and Medicaid expansion. In many ways this debate is the gateway to the end of the legislative session.
Last week began with Republicans objecting to Medicaid expansion ( BDN), but Democrats pressed the linkage of expansion with hospital repayment ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). As the week continued so did the sparring ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). By week’s end no progress was reported.
Comment came in waves from the LSJ and PPH editors, John Richardson, David Farmer, Matt Gagnon, Doug Rooks and Marion Pawlek. On WGAN we heard from Senate President Justin Alfond, House Republican Leader Ken Fredette and former Governor John Baldacci.
In the State House: The Maine State Chamber’s Business Day at the State House was a success ( BDN). Sen. Andre Cushing wrote about electing constitutional offices. Dan Demeritt wrote about the unlikelihood of a state budget shutdown while the BDN editors gave advice on how to avoid one. Bruce Webb commented on the appropriate size of government.
State Policy round-up:
Ballot watch: A revision to the Maine Clean Elections Act made it out of Committee ( PPH).
- Budget: Three proposals from the Mayors’ Coalition to balance the state budget got a quick “no thanks” from the Governor ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). Rep. Victoria Kornfield wrote to oppose the Governor’s budget. Late Friday the Administration announced that DHHS would run out of money in 3 weeks unless a budget was finalized ( PPH, BDN).
- Economic Development: LD 90, the workforce development bill, is awaiting final action in the legislature ( LSJ). J. Craig Anderson in the PPH looked at women-owned businesses. Maine’s demographics aren’t getting better ( PPH).
- Education: Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen responded to attacks on the Governor’s school grading system in the BDN and the PPH. Contrary views were expressed by Virginia Mott and Lynne Miller.
America’s Edge released research on Maine’s skills gap ( BDN, PPH). Virtual charter schools may have to wait ( PPH, BDN, PPH). Teacher evaluation regulations have been set for legislative review ( BDN). The Governor’s late-session education reform agenda ran into opposition ( MPBN). A bill to require universal pre-K by 2017 drew support ( PPH).
- Energy: The Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee pulled together a bipartisan energy bill designed to lower energy costs in Maine ( PPH). The Governor expressed unhappiness with the bill ( PPH, BDN), the BDN editors cautioned against unintended consequences, and Ray Levesque, Dan Brooks and Matt Damon wrote about what businesses need from Maine energy policy. The BDN editors also wrote about the direction wind energy policy in Maine should take.
- Environment: A proposed tar sands moratorium was rejected by lawmakers last week ( PPH, LSJ). A bill to limit ethanol sales in Maine got hung up between the House and Senate ( PPH).
- Health Care: Maine hospitals got high marks for safety ( BDN). Matthew Stone in the BDN looked at MaineCare expansion’s relation to hospital uncompensated care. The PPH editors wrote about health care cost shifts, and the LSJ editors discussed competition between MaineHealth and other hospitals.
- Small Business: Mainebiz offered a small business guide to the Affordable Care Act. The Maine Family Business Awards were handed out ( PPH).
- Tax: The ‘Gang of 11’ tax reform bill, LD 1496, survived two work sessions in the Taxation Committee last week ( PPH). Alan Caron joined those supporting the bill. Several bill scrutinizing tax breaks remain in play ( PPH). Proposed tobacco tax increases were rejected ( BDN), and the Governor vetoed a bill to study internet sales tax collection in Maine ( BDN).
- Transportation: The next Highway Budget was reviewed ( PPH). Toll increases on the Turnpike have raised revenues for MTA ( PPH).
- Welfare Reform: The BDN editors wrote in support of LD 1343, Speaker Eves’ bill to help transition from welfare to work.
Around the Region: Three school budget votes were held last week — two approvals and one rejection ( PPH). Elsewhere:
- In Falmouth, the Council sent Route 1 improvements to the voters for final approval ( Forecaster). The Falmouth/Cumberland Community Chamber will host a forum on the project’s financing on Wednesday at 1 pm at Town Hall.
- In Portland, after City officials urged support ( PPH, BDN) voters approved the school budget with a significant majority ( BDN, Forecaster). Elsewhere:
- A public hearing on plans for Congress Square Plaza will be held on Wednesday the 22nd starting at 5:30 pm in City Hall Council Chambers — supporters are urged to turn out.
- Facility improvement plans were discussed for many of the City’s schools ( BDN).
- Eric Russell in the PPH looked at two Portland schools on either end of the Governor’s grading system.
- Libbytown’s revival was detailed by William Hall in the Forecaster.
- 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, a planning discussion on Knightville’s future was held ( Current, Forecaster). The School Board approved the proposed school budget for next year ( Forecaster). More on community reaction to the Kaler School’s grade from the Governor ( Forecaster).
- In Scarborough officials began review of a planned development district adjacent to Scarborough Downs ( PPH, Forecaster, Current) — Dunstan Corner is also being considered for sustainable development plans ( Forecaster). Voters turned down the proposed school budget ( Forecaster). Karen Martin was appointed Executive Director of SEDCO ( Forecaster, Current) — congratulations Karen!
- In Westbrook, the municipal budget is done, and voters will have their say on the school budget on June 11th — but it looks like neither budget will raise taxes ( Current). New plans for Pride’s Corner are under discussion ( 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, House members, or Senators, 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!
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