Republican Gov. Paul LePage lays out his agenda for the last 11 months of his term in an address to Maine legislators at the State House on Tuesday. Expect an aggressive list of conservative goals designed to fortify LePage’s legacy and ignore his lame-duck status.
That’s a wrap for our live blog. Stay tuned to our homepage tonight and tomorrow for more context and reaction to Gov. LePage’s State of the State speech. Thanks for joining us tonight.
Ultimately, tonight we saw much from LePage that we’ve seen in past State of the State addresses — offers to work together with those on the other side of the aisle as well as criticism of lawmakers who haven’t gone along with him. He made his opposition to Medicaid expansion clear again, but didn’t portray funding for Medicaid expansion and funding for other priorities as an either-or choice. We’ll see if this tone holds as the last legislative session of LePage’s term as governor continues.
LePage claimed that Maine has the highest employment-to-population ratio in the country, but that’s not right. At that moment, he was ad-libbing.
According to the 2016 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Maine was in the middle range for that statistic.
Maine did, however, hit recent highs for the ratio of people employed to the total population in early 2017, at 62.1 percent. The number has remained around that level since.
Re: the quote with which LePage ended his State of the State address, from Snopes.com: “One of author Ralph Keyes’ axioms of misquotations is ‘Famous quotes need famous mouths,’ and the fulfillment of that need has, for the last several decades, put on the lips of Abraham Lincoln words that were not written until more than fifty years after Lincoln’s death, penned by an obscure personage whose name is unknown to most living Americans.”
Just reupping this one. LePage’s efforts to lower energy prices have been stymied by being only the governor of a relatively small state in New England. On energy, it’s speaking loud and carrying a… well…
LePage separately broke a little news in his speech, as far as I know. He said a group from Massachusetts will come up to talk to Central Maine Power Co. about their plan to build a transmission line through the state, in the wake of New Hamsphire regulators rejecting the Northern Pass project that also promised to get more Canadian hydropower onto New England’s grid.
LePage singles out John Martin of Eagle Lake and Craig Hickman of Winthrop for being Democrats with whom he’s worked collaboratively.
The number of projected jobs from the latest effort to revive part of the former Great Northern Paper mill jumped from 100 to 120 between this morning’s announcement and tonight’s speech.
The structural gap refers to all of the state’s spending obligations under current law against the state’s forecasted revenues.
Touting achievements in the job market
LePage touts low unemployment, as the job market hit a notable benchmark last year, recovering jobs lost in the recession after 109 months.
But LePage took an interesting tack, making clear that he’s not responsible alone for that change. He reiterated points made to the BDN back in 2014, arguing that he changed the attitudes and responsiveness of state government toward businesses.
LePage also touted a measure he said he does take some credit for (not clear why this and not the unemployment rate) — the employment-to-population ratio, which he said is better in Maine than any other state. Stay tuned, we’re just kicking the tires on that one.
LePage claims he can get any referendum passed in Maine by spending two weekends at the Portland mall. It’s worth noting that a Maine GOP effort to land a question on the ballot to eliminate the state income tax and place new restrictions on how recipients of cash assistance can spend their benefits never ended up on the statewide ballot. The party’s signature collection drive was unsuccessful.
How to make Maine Airbusier?
LePage again discusses how high power prices drove away Airbus from Maine.
He makes a reference to the criticism delivered by former Cianbro chairman Peter Vigue back in 2016. Vigue argued that Maine should really tout having the lowest power prices in the region.
LePage said tonight that he made that plea, to no effect, with Alabama offering power at roughly 4 cents per kilowatt-hour vs. about 14 cents in Maine. For residential customers, it’s about 16 cents now in Maine.
While the economic development LePage focuses on most involves attracting large corporations to the state, much research on the topic has shown that the bulk of job growth comes from the growth of small businesses already located in a state.
LePage is promoting multiple state borrowing proposals in his State of the State address — a commercialization bond, a student debt relief bond. It’s a change in tune from early in his administration, when LePage wasn’t a fan of state borrowing. He’s held off on selling multiple voter-approved bonds, including a $15 million bond to build senior housing.
LePage encourages Mainers to have more children. There are perhaps some lessons from Japan on that front.
LePage’s remarks about allowing 18-year-olds to buy cigarettes and choosing a uniform majority age was the extent of his section called “Keeping Young People in Maine.”
Reminder: Maine’s the oldest state in the country
LePage is again turning to talk about how old we all are, and how to turn that around.
Maine’s faced troubling demographic trends for decades, catching the attention of economic development groups, in particular. As of 2016, Maine was still country’s oldest state, by median age.
Deaths still regularly outpace births each year, but migration trends have started to turn positive in recent years, with a net gain of people from other U.S. states and from other countries.
We have not checked with President Abraham Lincoln’s staff, but we feel confident saying that Gov. Paul LePage was not his roommate.
We’re also checking the Husson yearbooks for any Lincolns…
A closer look at Maine’s conserved lands
As Mike Shepherd wrote, more than half of the conserved land in Maine is owned by governments. Here’s a breakdown of those conserved lands, as last updated by the Maine Office of GIS (which does magical things).
Maine became the first state to approve Medicaid expansion by ballot initiative in November 2017. Within six months of the law’s effective date, the coverage is to start. Within three months, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is required to file the necessary paperwork, a state plan amendment, with the federal government to indicate its intention to participate in the expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Topics we’ve got in headers from LePage’s written speech:
-Reducing property taxes
-Conforming to federal tax reform
-Keeping young people in Maine
— Darren Fishell (@darrenfishell) February 14, 2018
Gov. LePage’s focus on tax-exempt property and his criticism of municipalities jibe with criticism the governor has lodged throughout his tenure at the organization that represents towns and cities before state policymakers, the Maine Municipal Association and his feelings on what he’s called “the high cost of local control.” He has attacked what he’s characterized as bloated local governments, and used that criticism to justify attempts to eliminate municipal revenue sharing with towns and cities.
New Hampshire had the highest median household income in 2016.
LePage testified before the Legislature’s Taxation Committee last week, urging them to support his bill that aims to protect elderly Mainers from tax-lien foreclosures. Read about it here.
LePage is resurrecting a story he first mentioned in his 2017 State of the State address, when the Sukeforths attended the address at his invitation.
He said then:
Tonight, I invited Richard Sukeforth, an elderly veteran, and his wife — lost their home in Albion after the town seized it back for taxes. Total, about $6,500 dollars. They live in a home, it had a market value considerably more than that. It was taken, sold for $6,500, they were thrown on the street.
But I’m pleased to announce tonight, Adria Horn of the Bureau of Veterans Services, jumped into action and discovered he was eligible for V.A. benefits.
Mr. Sukeforth now gets $1,200 dollars or nearly $1,200 a month in pension. That would’ve kept him in his home.
And this year, I have a bill in and it’s simply this, it’s simply this. Before any town can foreclose on an elderly — in fact, it should be like this for everyone — you should first take a look at reverse mortgages. There’s several options out there. There’s abatement. If they have a whole lot of equity in the home and they don’t have a mortgage — in fact, what I’m telling elderly now, if you don’t have a mortgage, go get one. With a little mortgage on your house, you make a friend with a banker when they’re coming after you. Right? He’s going to protect his interest.
The governor used the issue of tax-exempt property and conservation land as an opportunity to lambaste a familiar foe, the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The BDN’s Mike Shepherd recently had a thorough analysis of the state’s portfolio of tax-exempt property in Maine. The share of tax-exempt property value in Maine has actually declined slightly since 2005, he found.
We have the full transcript of the speech, as prepared. We know from history that there’s plenty said between these lines.
One of the governor’s first jabs at Democrats and liberals involves solar power subsidies, which he has fought vehemently.
LePage invokes former President Ronald Reagan early in the speech. He has a painting of Reagan in his office and has often praised him or pointed to him as an inspiration in his speeches.
Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, who has sparred openly with LePage and is running to succeed him, introduces him.
Power prices are a likely topic, yet again
LePage entered office in 2011 with a commitment to lower power prices, but that’s tougher said than done when Maine only accounts for about 9 percent of the region’s power consumption.
Last fall, I chronicled the history of LePage’s efforts to lower power prices and why that’s been such a tough nut to crack.
And here’s a full rundown of the major energy legislation (so far) of LePage’s time in office.
In 2016, LePage was warring with legislators, so he delivered his State of the State in writing rather than speaking in the same room with people who had talked a month earlier about impeaching him. He made 12 references to “socialism,” building upon a presidential election year theme he often resurrected.
Mike Shepherd and Chris Cousins have reported over the past few days on some themes, new and old, Gov. LePage is likely to touch on, including the closure of Downeast Correctional Facility, funding for the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative voters approved in November and tax-exempt conservation land.
Here’s another we wouldn’t be surprised to hear the governor talk about: cutting back on administrative spending by Maine public schools. The two-year state budget that passed last July includes a provision that starts to reduce the amount of state school aid earmarked for district-level administration. By the 2020-21 school year, only school districts that have joined with neighboring districts to provide regional services and districts identified as “high-performing” and “efficient” will qualify for state aid earmarked for system-level administration.
While we await Gov. Paul LePage, a public service announcement:
Tomorrow we make it official.
Pitchers & catchers report.#SoxSpring
BDN photographer Troy Bennett reports LePage has yet to arrive at the Hall of Flags reception scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
— Taylor Cairns (@TaylorWGME) February 13, 2018
Supporters of Medicaid expansion are rallying outside the State House. Since Maine voters backed expansion in a November referendum, LePage has said he won’t implement it unless the Legislature meets a stringent set of conditions. The progressive groups that backed expansion at the ballot box are running tonight’s rally.
LePage is throwing a bipartisan reception before his speech. Legislators were invited to a reception in the State House’s Hall of Flags — outside the governor’s office and a floor below the legislative chambers — before tonight’s address, starting at 5:30 p.m. In the past, LePage has hosted guests in a more private room attached to his office suite.
Take a look at what LePage said last year
We annotated Gov. Paul LePage’s 2017 State of the State, highlighting both the truths and the headscratchers.
Wherein we pick apart curious phrases like “utopia is an ideology,” and much more: