Top State House issues await action

By Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber
Posted June 03, 2013, at 1:19 p.m.

Editor’s note: This report is compiled biweekly for members of the Portland Regional Chamber. It provides a breakdown of recent state policy news as well as a heads-up on coming events. The Bangor Daily News is publishing this report in cooperation with the PRC.

As we head into the last weeks of the legislative session it can be difficult to keep track of all the story lines. Just in case the sudden onset of summer weather made you take your eye off the bouncing ball, here are the top stories you probably ought to be watching:

  1. The next two-year state budget remains a work in process. Weekend work sessions at the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee produced progress, but no conclusion to the effort to find a bipartisan alternative to the governor’s proposals.
  1. The “Gang of 11” tax reform bill, LD 1496, remained in the Taxation Committee last week as state officials developed detailed fiscal impact analyses and refined legal language.
  1. The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee put forward a bipartisan bill designed to lower energy costs and promote natural gas opportunities in Maine. The governor continued to criticize the bill’s failure to change state wind power policy.
  1. No resolution appeared for the hospital repayment/Medicaid expansion debate.

You can find links to stories on these issues and many others below. You also can find resources below to help you contact your local lawmakers so you can make your voice heard.

The Portland Regional Chamber is urging lawmakers to pass a two-year budget that avoids property tax shifts but begins a conversation about more efficient government spending. We’re hopeful that new energy policies can bring lower costs to our region, especially for energy-intensive employers. Our members want our hospital bills paid. And while we’ve taken no position on the Gang of 11 tax reform bill, we always have looked for tax policies that do a better job of encouraging economic growth.

As the legislature enters its final weeks don’t miss the chance to add your views to the process that will produce decisions which affect us all.

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

Eric Russell produced a feature story in the PPH on Saturday that’s well worth reading –- Russell traces the history and current state of relations between the governor and legislative leadership. Their ability to work together –- or not -– will be a crucial aspect of the Legislature’s success in these final weeks, and it will go far to define their legacy as well.

In the State House: The week included more distractions around state house TVs and perceived censorship ( BDN, PPH, BDN). Sun Journal editors commented on the governor’s free speech and BDN editors wrote about the contrast between the distractions and the priorities at the State House.

The Legislature is set to vote on unanimous, bipartisan redistricting recommendations ( PPH, BDN). The governor issued additional vetoes ( BDN).

State policy round-up:

Budget: The week began with the governor declaring that only he would speak for the administration before legislators ( BDN, LSJ, LSJ editors). Democratic leaders finally offered an alternative to the governor’s municipal revenue sharing cuts -– they suggested suspending recent Maine income tax cuts ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). David Farmer, Bruce Poliquin and J. Scott Moody commented. A weekend plan at the Appropriation Committee to raise $100 million through a tax on nonprofits came ( BDN) and went ( BDN). The May issue of Fiscal Newsis available.

  1. Economic Development: The governor announced a trade mission to Mexico ( LSJ). BDN editors wrote in support of funding for LD 90, the workforce training bill. Alan Caron wrote about immigration and Charles Lawton wrote about youth in the labor force.
  1. Education: Business leaders joined others to urge greater investment in early childhood education ( PPH). In the PPH, Colin Woodard looked at the administration’s examination of ending the laptop program.
  1. Energy: Matt Stone in the BDN outlined how electric ratepayers may be asked to help pay for natural gas pipelines in the new omnibus energy bill. PPH editors wrote in support of the bill, while Greg Cunningham wrote in opposition. The Appropriations Committee may take some of the funding earmarked for the bill ( BDN).

Maine’s first offshore wind turbine went into the water last week ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). The PUC staff recommended an audit of the smart meter program ( LSJ, MPBN).

  1. Environment: Tighter mining rules began their trip through the Legislature ( PPH).
  1. Health Care: The governor wasted no time vetoing a bill that linked hospital repayment with Medicaid expansion, and Republican lawmakers upheld his veto ( PPH, BDN) — Rep. Heather Sirocki defended the veto. Meanwhile another bill expanding Medicaid is headed to the full Legislature ( BDN, MPBN). The governor’s effort to get the feds to agree to a 10-year Medicaid payment deal was rejected in a letter from federal officials ( BDN), and while the governor called it bad news, BDN editors called the letter good news.

Beth Sturtevant urged repayment of hospitals and release of existing bonds in order to stimulate the construction industry in Maine. Trish Reilly made the case for Medicaid expansion. Jackie Farwell of the BDN looked at hospital costs and access issues.

  1. Tax: The Gang of 11 tax reform bill remained in the Taxation Committee –- it’s unclear where the bill is headed in the session’s closing weeks ( LSJ). The House passed LD 346, requiring retailers to collect online sales tax ( BDN).
  1. Transportation: PPH editors called for an increase to the Maine gas tax.
  1. Workers Comp: The Maine State Chamber continues to lead the fight against LD 443, which will increase workers’ compensation costs by $60 million dollars annually. The Portland Chamber supports the State Chamber’s efforts to defeat LD 443. A separate bill would expand comp coverage to emergency responders at home ( MPBN).

Around the Region: Maine International Trade Day featured the president of Iceland lauding Portland’s port as a key trade location for trans-Arctic shipping ( PPH, BDN). Oh, brave new world … elsewhere:

  1. In Falmouth the Forecaster took a look at two school bonds on the June 11 ballot.
  1. In Portland the council’s Housing and Community Development Committee voted 3-1 to begin negotiations with RockBridge Capital to sell a portion of Congress Square Plaza for redevelopment as a part of the Eastland renovation ( PDS, PPH, PPH editors support). It was a big victory for all of us, including the Portland Community Chamber, which supported the transformational opportunity. Also:
  1. A petition to put legalization of marijuana on the November ballot in Portland advanced ( BDN, PDS) -– PPH editors were not supportive.
  1. However, PPH editors took a more sympathetic view of panhandling.
  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 Scarborough the planning board will take up the proposed rezoning of Scarborough Downs ( Forecaster, Current). Work continued on a revised school budget which will go before the council on June 5 and voters on June 11 ( Forecaster, 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!

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by contributions from our Partners for Progress. For information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber just click here.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/03/business/top-state-house-issues-await-action/ printed on July 31, 2014