Dakota was pardoned in March by Gov. Paul LePage. A District Court judge had ordered the Husky euthanized after it attacked other dogs.

Dog pardon again proves LePage is the alpha in Maine’s power structure

A husky’s life is on the line in what may be Maine’s most unusual court case, and one of the only things that can save it is Gov. Paul LePage and a creative interpretation of executive power.

Published April 23, 2017, at 7:20 a.m.     |    

Dog pardon again proves LePage is the alpha in Maine’s power structure

Posted April 23, 2017, at 7:20 a.m.
Last modified April 24, 2017, at 1:06 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A husky’s life is on the line in what may be Maine’s most unusual court case, and one of the only things that can save it is Gov. Paul LePage and a creative interpretation of executive power.

The Republican governor found a new way to test his authority in March, when he issued a “ full and free pardon” to a dog named Dakota, who was ordered to die by a judge after killing a neighbor’s dog last year in Winslow, then attacking that same family’s new dog in February.

A judge upheld that order earlier this month, but Dakota’s owner has a new legal team asking the judge to reconsider, using LePage’s power on property forfeiture as a legal backstop. But the district attorney has dismissed the governor’s action.

The way the “pardon” was delivered has led to uncertainty, but LePage’s authority is central to the defense’s case. It’s just another example of the governor testing his power, but this one’s certainly novel.

Confusion has ensued after LePage’s pardon, partly because he bypassed normal procedure to issue it. That’s not just because the subject is a dog.

Gubernatorial pardons normally come after hearings on petitions submitted to a clemency board by people whose livelihoods are affected by old convictions. The purely advisory board hears those cases and gives confidential recommendations to the governor, who has the final say.

The Maine Constitution gives the governor wide authority to remit “all forfeitures and penalties” after convictions and to “grant reprieves, commutations and pardons.”

But LePage didn’t go through his board in this case. Instead, he intervened by attaching an official-looking pardon document to a news release on the dog’s case after it was brought to his attention by someone at the Waterville humane society.

District Court Judge Valerie Stanfill, however, upheld her initial order that Dakota be killed, citing the section of state law mandating euthanization when dogs deemed dangerous attack again. At the hearing, Stanfill said she wasn’t considering the pardon, although it wasn’t clear if she merely hadn’t seen it or if she thought it was invalid.

There was some debate about whether the pardon was serious since the first line of the news release from LePage’s office referenced ceremonial Thanksgiving turkey pardons by the president and said it was “to shed light on the case.” But LePage spokesman Peter Steele last week called it an “official pardon.”

Mary Ann Lynch, a spokeswoman for Maine’s judicial system, declined to comment on specifics of the case. But she said the court system normally doesn’t have to handle most gubernatorial pardons because they affect prior convictions.

Still, the pardon is central to the case presented by Dakota’s lawyers and its validity is a point of contention with the district attorney.

Stanfill’s latest order has been appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, but the new lawyers for Matthew Perry, who owned Dakota at the time of the attacks, filed an order last week asking the high court to delay the appeal and send the case back to Stanfill for fact-finding.

Those lawyers, Eliot-based David Bobrow and Augusta-based Darrick Banda, argue that Perry didn’t own Dakota when Stanfill originally ordered the dog’s execution in March, so it’s invalid. In a separate line of reasoning, they also argue that killing Dakota would be a property forfeiture, which LePage could reverse.

The office of Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney has argued in court documents that LePage has no authority to pardon Dakota because there has been no conviction, he didn’t follow proper procedure in issuing it because Maine law requires public notice and a pardon requires a hearing.

“It’s symbolic and obviously the symbolism itself is very effective at garnering attention,” Maloney said.

Banda, a Republican who lost the 2012 district attorney race to Maloney, a Democrat, that the district attorney has “disrespected” the governor with her argument and said Stanfill should have allowed time to gather facts on it before ruling after the pardon.

“Whatever label you want to put on what the governor did — whether you want to label it a pardon, whether you want to label it the remittance of property,” Banda said, “he has the authority to see that this sentence does not get put into execution.”

LePage routinely tests his office’s power. But this time, it’s not political.

The governor hasn’t been shy about wielding his executive power, whether on a record-setting number of vetoes or his 2015 threat to withhold funding that prompted a nonprofit to rescind a job offer to former Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

He has been tested in court with mixed results. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that LePage missed his chance to veto 65 bills in 2015. The next year, a federal judge dismissed Eves’ lawsuit against the governor.

Here, LePage is trying to save a dog, not punish political enemies. The Legislature has no role in the pardon process, and he has not affixed partisan blame to anyone in Dakota’s case. But this intervention started with an anecdote, and it is now sending government into contortions.

That’s not so different than past events in LePage world. If Dakota is saved, it will increase the power of future governors.

 

A sign for the U.S. Customs and Immigration Otay Mesa Detention facility is shown in Otay Mesa, California, U.S., March 28, 2017.

What we can learn from Trump’s early immigration arrest numbers

Arrests of undocumented immigrants without criminal records tripled from the same interval last year in New England.

Published April 18, 2017, at 11:17 a.m.     |    

What we can learn from Trump’s early immigration arrest numbers

Posted April 18, 2017, at 11:17 a.m.
Last modified April 18, 2017, at 6:43 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Immigration arrests in New England rose 85 percent during the early weeks of President Donald Trump’s administration, compared with the same time last year, with federal agents flexing their broadened authority to detain immigrants who have criminal records, as well as those whose only crime was entering the country without documentation.

Notably, arrests of undocumented immigrants without criminal records tripled from the same interval last year in New England, marking the Trump administration’s apparent shift away from a policy that helped to shelter undocumented, but otherwise law-abiding, immigrants. With president’s promise to expand Immigration and Custom Enforcement staff and capabilities as yet unrealized, the New England arrest rate is already approaching that seen during the peak of former President Barack Obama’s historic deportation push.

Across the country, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested significantly more people from late January until mid-March than they did during the same period last year, and New England saw one of the most dramatic increase in arrests, according to statistics kept by the federal agency.

That’s had a chilling effect on new immigrants and people who advocate for them.

“I’m afraid for other people and I’m afraid for myself even though I’m legal here,” said David Berdeja, a Mexican immigrant and the coordinator of Maine’s branch of Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrant rights group. “[Immigrants] were already scared, but now it’s worse.”

Trump versus Obama

From Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20 to March 13, ICE agents in New England arrested 444 people, compared with 240 during that stretch in the last year of the Obama presidency. This year, 156 of the people arrested had no criminal record, compared with 52 last year.

But in New England and nationally, these figures were down from the same period in 2014, when ICE arrested 29,238 overall and 471 in the region. During that period in 2014, 7,483 immigrants without criminal records were arrested nationally, with 186 of them in New England. The national arrest numbers were first reported by the Washington Post.

The Obama administration deported 2.4 million people from fiscal 2009 to 2014, including a record 435,000 in 2013, according to the Pew Research Center. But the president also urged Congress to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and granted work permits to more than 700,000 such people who came to the U.S. as children.

A shift in focus

ICE’s recent arrests of people it had seemingly not targeted before Trump’s election has put Maine’s immigrant community on edge. Those arrested include a Guatemalan man who lived in the U.S. without documentation for decades and a legal permanent resident whom the government now intends to deport to Somalia for a 4-year-old drug possession conviction for which he already served jail time.

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These worries are shared by immigrants across the country, where immigration arrests increased nearly 33 percent during the first weeks of Trump’s presidency to 21,362, and the number of immigrants with no criminal records who were arrested more than doubled.

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About 47,000 immigrants live in Maine, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which says that more than half of these are naturalized U.S. citizens. As of 2012, the Pew Research Center estimated that there were fewer than 5,000 undocumented immigrants in Maine, making it one of the states with the lowest rates of unauthorized immigration.

The ICE data break down arrests by region rather than state by state, but recent ICE actions suggest that Maine has not been exempt from aggressive federal immigration enforcement. In a apparent first for the state, three ICE agents entered a Portland courthouse in early April to arrest Abdi Ali, whom the agency is now seeking to deport to Somalia.

Scores of Maine lawyers, and Attorney General Janet Mills, have decried courthouse arrests as a threat to the workings of the justice system. Berdeja said the tactic will drive immigrants out of Maine or underground.

“They will be in the shadows forever,” Berdeja said. “They will not want to go to any court or anything.”

Since Trump took office, ICE has also increasingly asked for help from local and state law enforcement with immigration detainers: voluntary requests that police hold people arrested beyond their normal release so that federal agents can detain and deport them.

In New England, from late January to mid-March, ICE issued 346 detainer requests. This count was 91 percent higher than during the same time period in 2016 and by far the highest over the last four years.

Nationally, ICE issued 22,161 detainer requests during the first weeks of the Trump administration. That was a 75 percent bump from last year, but slightly lower than in 2014.

Portland has a policy of cooperating with federal law enforcement, but also bars employees, including police, from asking about people’s immigration status and does not operate a jail.

South Portland is considering declaring itself a “sanctuary city,” a move that might invite the ire of the Trump administration which has promised to cut federal funds to municipalities that don’t cooperate with immigration authorities.

Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives watch votes tally on an amendment to the biennial state budget on June 16, 2015, at the State House in Augusta.

It’s about to get wild at the Maine State House

With just over 60 days left before the statutory end of this year’s legislative session, there’s a $6.8 billion problem to solve and lots of other work to do.

Published April 17, 2017, at 6:06 a.m.     |    

It’s about to get wild at the Maine State House

Posted April 17, 2017, at 6:06 a.m.
Last modified April 17, 2017, at 12:48 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — With just over 60 days left before the statutory end of this year’s legislative session, there’s a $6.8 billion problem to solve and lots of other work to do.

Of the 1,410 bills that have been sent to committees, only about 22 percent have been sent back to the full Legislature for consideration. Of those, only 239 have reached final disposition.

There are still hundreds of bills that aren’t yet written and probably dozens that haven’t even been conceived. Gov. Paul LePage, for example, can introduce new bills whenever he wants, and he is known for doing so up until the very last hours of the legislative session.

The crushing number of bills still to consider is nothing new at this juncture of the first year of the legislative session. Neither is the fact that virtually all of the most contentious floor debates in the House and Senate lie ahead.

From today’s vantage point, the next two months look like a marathon, but seasoned political observers know it will be a sprint. Still, that breeds frustration.

“We’ve had a very slow run up here, and we are clearly at the point where we need to be working much more than we are,” said House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who is notorious for his annual complaints about the Legislature’s slow startup. “We’re just a little over 60 days from statutory adjournment. I think we’re up against the wall.”

What’s taking so long?

The Legislature’s rules make it this way. New lawmakers were elected in November 2016 and convened to elect their leaders in early December. The 186 lawmakers then had until the end of December to file their bill requests with the Legislature’s Revisor of Statutes, kicking off what can only be called a mad rush to write all those bills. As they are written and printed, which means they enter the deliberative process, the Legislature has to refer them all to a committee. That constitutes the overwhelming majority of what the Legislature has accomplished thus far, much to the chagrin of some who look with envy at other states where the workload is limited in any of a number of ways.

Suzanne Gresser, who directs the revisor’s office, said she and her staff have already written and sent more than 1,475 bills to the Legislature for consideration.

“There’s an incredibly beautiful instinct and tradition in this state and among the legislators where almost every bill, in their minds, deserves to be fully heard,” she said.

Experts, lobbyists and regular folks create a vast daily parade through the State House. Part of the committee process involves public hearings and on the more complex measures, often several work sessions in which lawmakers deliberate for weeks before finally voting on recommendations. A prime example of that is a handful of bills related to Maine’s large-scale mining rules. The Environment and Natural Resources Committee has already dedicated several days and dozens of hours to the issue, on top of vast time spent on the issue during the last three legislative sessions.

Why can’t the Legislature speed up the process?

Legislative leaders are strategizing about how to move their favored bills to enactment. The black hole of the Legislature every two years is the biennial state budget. That bill exceeds 800 pages by itself, but there are hundreds of other bills that are in some way associated. Democrats, for example, recently produced an outline of budget priorities they call the Opportunity Agenda, which are under consideration as either amendments to the budget bills or separate bills with fiscal impacts.

The Democrats’ plan includes a number of initiatives that will be tough sells, politically and financially. That state revenues are exceeding spending more than they have in recent years means the debate will revolve around ideology and decisions won’t be forced by fiscal shortages.

“We’re not dealing with austere times. We’re not dealing with an austere economy,” Assistant Senate Minority Leader Nathan Libby, D-Lewiston, said. “Now is the time for us to be making the investments in the Maine people that we have not been making in the past six to eight years.”

There’s a lot of work that hasn’t even started yet. Fredette said several committees, such as energy, education and the health and human services committees, have massive workloads ahead of them and that LePage will be adding to the load imminently.

“I had a meeting with the governor [Thursday,] and he has a significant number of bills still in the revisor’s office,” Fredette said Friday. “There is a lot of heavy lifting left to do.”

Lines of political division are already hard and numerous. Many bills are coming out of committees with divided reports, which usually means Democrats vote one way and Republicans vote the other. With Democrats in control of the House and Republicans controlling the Senate, that means many of those bills will be the subject of full debates even though they’re going to die in the end. In the past 20 years, the Legislature hasn’t enacted more than 48 percent of proposed bills, and usually the percentage has been much lower.

Divided, partisan recommendations have already been made throughout LePage’s budget proposal, which some say could lead to one of the most difficult budget negotiations since he has been in office. Some say difficulty is normal.

“The scenario this session is pretty much the same as it has been,” Libby said. “Every budget negotiation is very difficult.”

Where are the friction points?

The state budget is the mother of all friction points, but there are plenty of other issues that will cause robust debate. Here’s a sampling of some other high-profile bills that will be at the forefront of debate in the coming weeks:

— Democratic Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester has sponsored two bills, LD 140 and LD 1399, which aim to increase the availability of broadband internet service in rural Maine. There is bipartisan support for the concept but the price tag is yet to be settled. The fiscal note on LD 1399 has not been established and LD 140 proposes a $10 million General Fund bond that Maine voters would have to approve by referendum.

— Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, has presented a workforce training bill, LD 1467, which hasn’t yet been brought into the legislative process. The bill aims to expand and improve the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program administered by the Department of Labor, in part by increasing allocations to the program by $3 million and doubling what employers involved in the program contribute. With a low unemployment rate and worker shortages increasing across several sectors, there is a lot of interest in training more workers in the Legislature, though there is disagreement about how to do it.

— There are a number of bills aimed at making the citizen-initiated referendum process more difficult following several election cycles with multiple petition-driven questions on the ballots. These concepts have not gained a lot of traction in recent legislative sessions but the ongoing battle over Questions 2, 4 and 5 from November 2016 could add enough heat to the debate to result in changes. Meanwhile, questions about how to implement those initiatives endorsed by Maine voters in 2016 — as well as the legalization of recreational marijuana — continue to generate major conflicts, with the tip credit, income surtax to boost school aid and jurisdiction over retail marijuana sales looming large before adjournment.

— Energy issues, which have emerged as priorities in recent years, will again keep lawmakers awake at night in June. A redux of last year’s bruising solar energy battle is brewing, as is a debate over Maine’s place in the regional energy infrastructure, particularly whether a transmission line for Quebec hydro-electric power to the south will come through Maine.

Also expected to come to the fore is the issue of offshore wind turbines. Republican Sen. Dana Dow of Waldoboro has his eye on that issue with LD 1262, which would prohibit the permitting of an offshore wind energy project with 10 nautical miles of the Monhegan Lobster Conservation area. A University of Maine turbine test site is already located there, though Dow’s bill, which would be retroactive to 2009, could unravel that.

— It is not a bill or a fiscal note, but one matter currently outside the Legislature’s control casts an imposing shadow on this year’s session. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday heard arguments prompted by Senate Republicans’ request for a “solemn occasion” that could determine the constitutionality of a ranked-choice voting system approved by voters in 2016. A likely court ruling in May or June could send lawmakers scurrying to work out the details of how they, as well as candidates for governor and federal office will be elected in 2018. That prospect is something completely different that no previous Legislature has encountered.

Soon, the crush of pending legislation will force long hours at the State House. The Legislature will increase from meeting two days per week to four or five, and come June sessions will be going late into the night or even around the clock. There will be inevitable complaints about why some of the work couldn’t have been accomplished earlier in the year. But with Easter already come and gone, it’s much too late for that now.

 

A construction laborer works high atop a building in down town Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 6, 2017.

Why more men will soon find themselves doing ‘women’s work’

The U.S. economy has shifted more to service-sector jobs that are resilient to automation and tend to be more dominated by women.

Published April 12, 2017, at 1:16 p.m.     |    

Why more men will soon find themselves doing ‘women’s work’

Posted April 12, 2017, at 1:16 p.m.

Many fields that are traditionally dominated by women are set to expand in coming decades, while many jobs currently dominated by men are not. That’s the result of new research published Wednesday by Jed Kolko, an economist at job search site Indeed, which shows that less-educated men may especially face challenges in the job market of the future.

Jobs in the United States are still strongly divided by gender. A little more than one-third of men and a little less than one-third of women work in fields that are at least 80 percent staffed by their gender, according to U.S. Census data analyzed by Kolko.

In recent decades, fields that are dominated by men and by women have not fared equally. Many men have fallen out of work as increasing mechanization has allowed the U.S. to produce more agricultural and manufacturing goods than ever with fewer people than before.

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy has shifted more to service-sector jobs that are resilient to automation and tend to be more dominated by women – like healthcare, one of the sectors that is forecast to grow most in coming decades.

Jobs that are dominated by women are projected to grow nearly twice as fast as jobs that are dominated by men, Kolko says, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This dynamic is especially hurting less-educated men. As Kolko points out, the least-educated men in the United States tend to work in the most male-dominated jobs, with about half of all men with a high school degree or less working in fields that are at least 80 percent male.

In contrast, only slightly more than 10 percent of men with a graduate or professional degree work in fields that are 80 percent male. “Therefore, fast-growing male jobs that require lots of education don’t really help men without a college degree who have been in traditionally male jobs,” Kolko writes.

Fascinatingly, the trend isn’t the same for women. Women in the middle of the education spectrum — those with some college or an associate’s degree — are the most likely to work in more female occupations. But both women with the least education (those with no more than a high school degree or with no high school degree) and those with the most (those with a bachelor’s degree or with a graduate or professional degree) are less likely to work in female-dominated fields.

Of course, the gender identity of a job can change quite quickly, as history shows. Women once dominated computer programming, for example, a field which is now heavily male.

The jobs that President Donald Trump campaigned on bringing back to the United States — those of coal miners, steelworkers and farmers — are all traditionally male industries that have shrunk in recent decades. The White House has pledged to revive these industries, in part by encouraging manufacturing and penalizing companies that decide to move jobs offshore.

However, many economists say that bringing back once-high-paying jobs for less educated men will be difficult, if not impossible.

While federal policies could help to give farmers and manufacturers in the U.S. an edge over competitors and save some jobs on the margin, the sharp decline in agriculture and industrial employment is due to bigger structural shifts in the economy, like automation and globalization. Indeed, the percent of the population employed in manufacturing has fallen in advanced economies around the world in past decades.

Kolko points out that automation has also put some traditionally female jobs at risk. Telephone operators, textile workers and travel agents are all female-dominated fields that are set to shrink in coming decades.

Yet we don’t often hear the same nostalgia for the disappearance of these jobs as we do for manufacturing work. Part of the reason is likely economic, but part also seems tied up in ideas about masculinity and gender roles, as manufacturing jobs allowed less educated men to earn enough to serve as breadwinners for an entire family.

As economist David Autor pointed out to me in a recent conversation, few Americans are shedding tears for the loss of secretarial jobs in the United States, yet that field has disappeared for women, just as surely as factory work has declined for men. The difference is that many less educated men have struggled to find good jobs to replace it, while many women have generally moved to expanding and more lucrative fields, he said.

“We know in general as the labor market has become more skill intensive, women have educated themselves and adapted by moving quickly into other jobs,” Autor told me. “Women have moved on and up.”

There are a few traditionally male jobs that are set to grow in coming decades, including ambulance drivers, emergency medical technicians, personal finance advisers, web developers, computer scientists and actuaries, according to Kolko’s research.

But given the broader trends in the U.S. economy away from manufacturing and toward services, other American men may need to move into traditionally female roles in coming years if they want to thrive.

 

Maine Education Commissioner Robert Hasson Jr. announces $3 million worth of grants to help Maine school districts with consolidation projects during an April 3, 2017 ceremony in Augusta.

Frustrated by politics, LePage turns to a veteran educator to leave his mark on Maine schools

Less than two weeks into the job, Robert Hasson Jr. is tasked with promoting big and bold LePage initiatives that would change the face of public education in Maine.

Published April 09, 2017, at 7:18 a.m.     |    

Frustrated by politics, LePage turns to a veteran educator to leave his mark on Maine schools

Posted April 09, 2017, at 7:18 a.m.
Last modified April 09, 2017, at 7:01 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — With his most ambitious education policy proposals yet on the table, Gov. Paul LePage has covered his flank by defusing ongoing criticism about his refusal to appoint a permanent schools chief for Maine.

Since the governor rescinded his nomination for education commissioner in February 2016 because of Democratic opposition and refused to appoint another, the void in the Department of Education’s top position has been a distraction.

For a year, LePage rebuffed calls for another nominee and shuffled people through the position for temporary stints, all while his original nominee, William Beardsley, ran the department on a de facto basis. That drew continuous fire from legislators, the teachers union and public school advocates.

“Public schools need solid, qualified leadership now more than ever due to the changing demands placed on educators,” Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, said when LePage named Debra Plowman temporary deputy education commissioner in May 2016. “Appointing someone to the post of education commissioner shouldn’t be a shuffle of the deck to see which card lands on top.”

When Beardsley resigned for personal reasons in December 2016, LePage announced that Robert Hasson Jr., a former teacher, principal and 20-year superintendent of School Administrative District 51 in the Cumberland area, would take over. In February, LePage nominated Hasson for the permanent post, and Hasson breezed through Senate confirmation with unanimous, bipartisan support.

The job ahead

Less than two weeks into the job, Hasson is tasked with promoting big and bold LePage initiatives that would change the face of public education in Maine. Among the initiatives in LePage’s pending biennial budget proposal is ending state funding for school administrators in a bid to spur school districts to consolidate, implementing a statewide labor contract for teachers to replace negotiations at the local level, repealing and replacing Maine’s school funding formula and scrapping a voter-approved 3 percent surtax on income above $200,000 that would pour more than $150 million a year into public schools.

“I don’t pretend to have all that figured out,” Hasson said during a recent interview in his office, where Stevie Wonder music played softly in the background. “That’s why this needs to be a process with everybody involved.”

By putting the initiatives into his budget bill, LePage signaled he intends to move quickly and leverage his proposals with the fact that if the overall budget doesn’t pass by the end of June, Maine faces a government shutdown. But Hasson acknowledged that some of the changes are too big to happen all at once.

“My intention with the statewide teacher contract is that there will be a solid beginning to that and that the parties will be actively working on that issue,” he said, adding he is also hoping for legislative approval for more than $10 million over the biennium to fund school consolidation grants.

An insider’s perspective

Republican Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Education Committee, said Hasson’s experience will be valuable in negotiations.

“Having someone who understands education policy and has lived it is very, very beneficial,” Langley said. “This governor has put forward some bold initiatives. … Not all of those are meeting with great enthusiasm, but oftentimes it’s the conversation itself that arises that is more important than whatever the initiative is.”

Democratic Rep. Matthea Daughtry of Brunswick, who also serves on the Education Committee, said she doesn’t agree with LePage and Hasson on many issues but that Hasson’s presence will solidify leadership of the department.

“It was so disappointing to see gamesmanship going on with the head of one of the most [important] departments in our state,” she said. “My focus right now is reversing the harmful cuts that are in the governor’s budget. … We’ve already shifted enough onto our local taxpayers, and this budget would overwhelmingly raise our taxes if it were to go through untouched.”

Steven Bailey, president of the Maine School Superintendents Association and superintendent of Damariscotta-area schools, said he knows Hasson is a “knowledgeable, big-picture thinker” who as a former public school insider can speak as a peer to superintendents.

“He does know the inner workings,” said Bailey, whose organization opposes LePage’s proposed shift of administration costs to the local level and supports the increasing state aid to 55 percent of the total cost of public K-12 education. Bailey said most superintendents support those concepts, which makes Hasson’s embracing them noteworthy.

“Some of the positions that have been taken by the governor, as well as have been advocated by the incoming commissioner, I’m a little bit surprised based on his prior history,” Bailey said. “With some of the initiatives that are going on, we’re curious as to how we can talk about things that are important to us and keep that discussion going.”

Conflict points

Hasson said change of the scope LePage is proposing is difficult but that the overall vision is to shift resources to as close to Maine’s students as possible and away from things such as central offices and transportation. He hopes support will come voluntarily.

“The goal is for every one of the 174,000 students in Maine to have the opportunity to have a great teacher with them, at least one, every single day,” Hasson said. “All the efforts that I’m involved with and that the governor is supporting are directed toward that goal.”

Where the Legislature settles when it comes to education remains to be seen. Republicans from the House and Senate, who earlier this year were using softer tones regarding the education surtax approved in Question 2, identified its repeal this week as a “line in the sand” over which the entire $6.8 billion budget proposal depends.

Democrats who have been calling for stronger state funding for education since the 55 percent law was first enacted 13 years ago are similarly unlikely to waver. If that holds true into late June, Hasson will be in the midst of perhaps the biggest challenge of his career.

The main entrance of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Saving ailing hospitals created fiscal strain for Eastern Maine Healthcare

If a major credit rating agency follows through on a downgrade to EMHS, the hit would reverberate throughout the extensive financial ties that bind the hospital network.

Published April 08, 2017, at 7:56 a.m.     |    

Saving ailing hospitals created fiscal strain for Eastern Maine Healthcare

Posted April 08, 2017, at 7:56 a.m.

If a major credit rating agency follows through on a downgrade to Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, the hit would reverberate throughout the extensive financial ties that bind the hospital network.

Perhaps best known for its flagship hospital, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, the system stretches from Presque Isle to Portland. It includes not only nine hospitals, but also dozens of medical practices and eight nursing homes, as well as pharmacies and ambulance services.

The $1.5 billion not-for-profit organization employs nearly 12,000 people, second in the state only to MaineHealth, which became a competitor in 2013 with EMHS’ acquisition of Mercy Health System of Maine.

EMHS went on to add an Ellsworth hospital to its fold in 2015, and is now in talks to acquire another in Dover-Foxcroft.

The system’s myriad components are fused more today than ever, with the home office providing a range of services to its members, such as human resources and management of health quality improvement programs. The members, in turn, fund the expenses of the home office’s oversight.

EMHS says this model has reduced administrative costs and decreased variation across the system. The financially struggling hospitals it has acquired in recent years faced uncertain futures without the purchasing power and scale of a big network.

But it also means EMHS’ members are more focused on the wellbeing of the system than their own financial performance. That’s reflected in the fact that EMHS now reports its balance sheet as a single entity, with little distinction between which profits and losses belong to which members. Individual hospitals no longer publish annual reports detailing their own finances.

As Moody’s Investor Services weighs whether to downgrade EMHS to “junk bond” status, it will view the system as one corporate entity. Meanwhile, the patients who visit its many facilities across Maine for surgeries, doctor’s appointments and lab tests, still typically think of their local hospital as a community institution.

 

Maine is poised to weaken its minimum wage law. What will Democrats allow?

The key group of Democrats who support re-establishing the tip credit is holding firm.

Published April 05, 2017, at 4:07 p.m.     |    

Maine is poised to weaken its minimum wage law. What will Democrats allow?

Posted April 05, 2017, at 4:07 p.m.
Last modified April 05, 2017, at 7:16 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Well-organized factions on either side of Maine’s voter-approved minimum wage increase sent hundreds to the State House on Wednesday to lobby lawmakers about proposed changes to roll back the new law.

The most heat is around what is known as the “tip credit” — or the customer subsidy allowing restaurant owners to pay servers a base wage lower than Maine’s minimum wage as long as their tips get them up to the regular minimum wage threshold.

The law passed by voters in November raised Maine’s regular hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 in 2017, putting it on track to reach $12 by 2020. The tipped minimum rose from $3.75 to $5 and will reach the regular rate by 2024, which has rankled the industry and many servers.

The tip credit changes could be most likely to go, but Democrats are holding firm against challenges to the rest of the law. The next question is whether some of them will coalesce around a proposed “training wage” aimed at keeping younger people in the workforce.

The key group of Democrats who support re-establishing the tip credit is holding firm, but they’re aligned with their party on the rest of the law. An estimated 200 people — made up largely of servers aligned with the the industry-affiliated Restaurant Workers of Maine and those aligned with the progressive Maine People’s Alliance — told differing stories about the law’s early and anecdotal impact on Wednesday.

One side said customers are tipping less and servers are making less money; the other said tipping practices haven’t changed and the higher base wage has lessened uncertainty about earnings.

But lawmakers have already divided themselves: Eight legislative Democrats drew heat from the Maine People’s Alliance in March after co-sponsoring Republican proposals to roll back the tip credit changes. There’s no sign that those Democrats are wavering on the issue.

Reps. Robert Alley of Beals and Martin Grohman of Biddeford said they still favor reinstating the tip credit. Alley said he’s heard from progressives all over the country but the most convincing arguments have been from restaurants in his district.

“I’d rather be in the middle of the road and if I can help this one over here and they want the tipped wages, let them have it,” Alley said, “and if someone over here wants the minimum wage, then I’ve done both.”

Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, said there may be room for compromise on the tip credit, though he doesn’t agree it should be reinstated and said Democrats see the $12 wage broadly as “significantly important for the health of our economy.”

Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, agreed that it’s possible that Republicans and some Democrats could reach accord on reinstating the tip credit, but she doesn’t see much chance of the minimum wage hike being repealed or altered.

“To me, the tip credit and this minimum wage stuff is coming from the more progressives,” she said. “I think they’re really out of touch with what really impacts Mainers on a day-to-day basis.”

Another debate could be brewing about a training wage for younger workers, but it’s unclear whether Democrats will coalesce around it. Alongside bills on the tip credit, the Legislature’s labor committee took testimony on other bills that would establish lower minimum wages for younger workers.

One, from Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, would set a hourly minimum at $8.25 for people age 20 and younger. Timberlake, who owns a hardware store and apple orchard, said “there’s not going to be any kids working” unless the Legislature sets a training wage for younger workers.

Golden said there is little Democratic support for bills that seek to implement a lower training wage or pay minors less than other workers, calling them “all off-limits to our caucus.”

But it’s not off-limits to some Democrats: Timberlake’s bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, who said the issue was brought to him by Funtown Splashtown USA, the landmark amusement park in his city employing high-schoolers seasonally.

Chenette said he’s not sure whether he’d vote for a training wage and ruled out voting to change the tip credit or other parts of the law. But he said the training wage “was not part of the referendum language” and that it’s “worth having that conversation” with businesses.

Grohman said it’s an issue worth considering, but he “wouldn’t support it if I didn’t think it helped people get jobs.”

“We all want the same thing: We want people to make more money and we want people to have great jobs,” he said. “We’re just disagreeing about which policy is the right way to achieve that.”

Members of both parties said they know they are walking a fine line when they consider changes to a citizen-initiated referendum. Espling said she does not worry about backlash from constituents if the Legislature changes the law.

“This whole subverting the will of the voters argument is just kind of mind-boggling to me,” she said. “We had the marijuana question where kids could possess pot. You can’t just go by ‘we have to rubber stamp everything the voters put in these things.’ … It’s our responsibility to carefully look at it all and understand the impacts.”

Golden said he would support a mechanism — which so far has not been proposed — that would slow down the minimum wage or tipped credit increases if there were data-driven indicators that it was hurting wages or the economy.

“I like this idea of building in some kind of trigger mechanism that would put a freeze on the law moving forward if there was clear, strong evidence that it was depressing anyone’s wages, forcing businesses out of business or hurting the economy,” said Golden. “I’m not going to take the Chamber of Commerce’s word on it. I’m just looking for hard facts.”

One of the bills under consideration would establish a study commission to do what Golden suggests. All 10 bills that were introduced Wednesday will be considered by the committee and full Legislature in the coming weeks.

 

Although wind energy is supported by many environmentalists, those who oppose development in the Moosehead region feel the reality of wind power would mean no real reduction in Maine

Wind power foes: Don’t ruin Maine’s beauty to feed ‘green energy’ demands

Wind power opponents near Moosehead Lake are worried that Massachusetts interests are going to despoil their landscape, 164 years after Bay Stater Henry David Thoreau trundled his famous nature-praising pen through Maine’s North Woods.

Published April 05, 2017, at 7:31 a.m.     |    

Wind power foes: Don’t ruin Maine’s beauty to feed ‘green energy’ demands

Posted April 05, 2017, at 7:31 a.m.
Last modified April 05, 2017, at 3:38 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Wind power opponents near Moosehead Lake are worried that Massachusetts interests are going to ruin their view, 164 years after Bay Stater Henry David Thoreau trundled his famous nature-praising pen through Maine’s North Woods.

Massachusetts on Friday issued a massive request for clean power proposals that could help the state meet its goal of reducing its electrical system’s impact on global warming. By 2020, the state aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation to 25 percent below 1990 levels.

The long-expected solicitation has wind opponents in Maine again gearing up for a fight, as Maine is host to the vast majority of pending land-based wind power projects in New England.

A small part of that coming battle is playing out in Augusta, where perhaps unexpected alliances have formed between environmentalists, wind opponents and state tourism officials over a bill to increase restrictions on wind power development in designated scenic areas.

Wind power developers have testified against the bill that would require regulators to assess the visual impact of projects located within 15 miles of certain parts of the state, deemed “scenic resources of state or national significance.”

Environmental groups including the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Appalachian Trail Club testified in support of the move in March. Both said their position was based on experience gained since lawmakers passed the Maine Wind Energy Act of 2008.

Lester Kenway, president of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, said he discovered two years ago that the scenic impact of the Record Hill project in Roxbury extended farther than he thought.

“As I climbed above the tree-line on Baldpate Mountain on a clear June day, I was surprised to see so many large wind towers so close by,” Kenway wrote to lawmakers in March. “What had been portrayed in imagination and simulation was very different from reality.”

Kenway and NRCM made clear that they supported the bill as long as it was tailored to only add heightened review for particular scenic areas.

“The Maine Appalachian Trail Club is Pro-Appalachian Trail, not anti wind power,” Kenway added.

Richard McDonald, president of the nonprofit Saving Maine and a member of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee, said his group hopes to add vistas from Big Moose Mountain and Mount Kineo to the list. And there could be others. The bill is currently tabled.

That bill could add another tool for wind opposition groups, who in the past have used the environmental permitting process to bring project development to a crawl.

“Our job is to create a wall of resistance,” McDonald said Tuesday. “That would be our goal to really slow everything down and present every obstacle that we possibly can.”

Beyond that bill, McDonald said his group expects fights coming over Massachusetts’ request for an amount of clean power that equals about 80 percent of the annual electricity generated in Maine. The request seeks proposals for about 9.5 million megawatt-hours of new renewable power and the transmission projects required to deliver the electricity by 2020.

The request reignites concern wind opponents had around a previous clean power solicitation from southern New England, which had the potential to triple Maine’s wind power capacity. In the end, joint wind and transmission line projects lost out to Maine solar proposals.

McDonald said he’s concerned about the scenic impacts of turbines and those transmission projects, including a line from Chester to Pittsfield for which Emera Maine and Central Maine Power are buying up land.

The latest request seeks a mix of hydropower and wind generation, with interested parties including transmission developers CMP, Emera and Maine Power Express, wind developers NextEra Energy and EDP Renewables, hydro dam generator Brookfield Renewable Partners and Bay of Fundy tidal power developer Halcyon Tidal Power LLC. All provided comments to Massachusetts officials on the proposal process.

The request calls for bidders to submit their notices of intent to bid by April 21, with projects selected by Jan. 25, 2018. The projects would go up for approval by the state’s Department of Energy Resources in April 2018.

 

A Maine company-owned logging truck

As paper mills die, here’s how Maine’s loggers hope to survive

As traditional paper businesses are shifting to growing markets in food packaging and tissue — and as the pellet industry tries to grow its share of the U.S. heating market — others are eyeing new industries to breathe life into the economic engine in Maine’s woods.

Published April 03, 2017, at 6:19 a.m.     |    

As paper mills die, here’s how Maine’s loggers hope to survive

Posted April 03, 2017, at 6:19 a.m.
Last modified April 03, 2017, at 4:19 p.m.

HALLOWELL, Maine — Picture logging trucks lined up single-file on Interstate 95 from Houlton down to West Palm Beach.

The annual drop in Maine wood demand since 2014 would fill that imaginary 1,770-mile caravan. The loss equals about 350 fewer truckloads of wood a day, every day of the year.

That drop is one sign of the hit Maine’s forest products industry has taken in recent years, as certain paper products stare down declining demand and biomass electricity generation struggles to compete with low oil and natural gas prices.

But industry experts also see opportunity in that 3.8 million ton drop in annual wood demand.

“We’ve had a rough couple of years in the industry,” said Eric Kingsley, a consultant with Innovative Natural Resource Solutions in Portland. “We’ve lost mills, we’ve lost jobs. There will be more losses coming. But I am, long term, optimistic.”

As traditional paper businesses are shifting to growing markets in food packaging and tissue — and as the pellet industry tries to grow its share of the U.S. heating market — others are eyeing new industries to breathe life into the economic engine in Maine’s woods.

[ Two maps that show the promise of Maine’s forest industry]

State and federal officials have been assessing Maine’s forest products industry and identifying opportunities for growth. Last week, Kingsley and many others assembled for a recent industry forum focused on that long-term future and new wood-fueled industries. The trade group E2Tech and GrowSmart Maine co-hosted the event.

Charlotte Mace, executive director of the trade group Bio-based Maine, is working with the University of Maine in Orono to help make the business case for a range of new forest product businesses, including plastics, chemicals and fuel.

“It’s about turning renewable resources into advanced products, from forest, farm and sea,” Mace said.

She and Kingsley see a few big advantages for Maine in that effort: It’s the most forested state in the country, it has the infrastructure to move lots of wood, it’s next to one of the largest groups of consumers in the world, and there’s growing global demand for supplanting fossil fuels in everyday products.

Through a federal grant, Mace’s group is seeking a firm this year to complete an inventory of the state’s existing industrial assets, including its active pulp and paper mills and shuttered sites.

[ Paper mills are closing, but Maine’s economy still relies on logging]

It may publish that information on its website, in a format that prospective investors could search.

“We’re putting together an investment prospectus with all the information they would need to decide to invest in Maine,” Mace said. “It’s important that we share that with the international biotech industry. They’re not going to magically discover that.”

Companies such as Revolution Research of Orono, Grow-Tech of South Portland and True Textiles of Guilford already are laying the groundwork, Mace said, but her group also has started visiting trade shows to pitch Maine to some of the industry’s largest players.

Those pitches involve touting what the state already has, with vast forests and the equipment and skill in harvesting that wood fiber. In 2015, Mace said her group started discussions with a major bioplastics manufacturer who was concerned about their ability to source enough wood.

“It was about 1.8 percent of our annual harvest to supply this big plant,” Mace said. “We definitely have what it takes, it’s just putting the pieces together.”

That, she cautioned, could take some time.

“It’s a whole process and supply chain that has to be put together in a very strategic and deliberate way,” Mace said.

While a second golden age for Maine’s forest economy awaits the right market and the right investors, Mace said the science points in Maine’s favor.

“Everything in our lives can really be made from the cellulose of wood, and this is really the long-term vision,” Mace said. “We want to manufacture these high-end products, and we want to manufacture them in Maine.”

 

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King at his home in Brunswick

How Angus King went from a Democratic Party exile to a darling of progressives

King campaigned hard against the Democratic establishment at first, but he won over many of the party’s voters and some of its leaders.

Published April 02, 2017, at 7:14 a.m.     |    

How Angus King went from a Democratic Party exile to a darling of progressives

Posted April 02, 2017, at 7:14 a.m.
Last modified April 02, 2017, at 11:59 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Angus King was a lifelong Democrat best known as a television host before he unenrolled from his party and went on to win what looked at the start like an improbable run for Maine governor.

“The Democratic Party as an institution has become too much the party that is looking for something from government,” he told the Bangor Daily News after announcing his 1994 bid.

Next year, the independent U.S. senator elected in 2012 after two terms as governor from 1995 to 2003 may enter his last campaign. Unlike 1994, when he ran hard against the Democratic establishment, he’s already being portrayed as a legacy “Democrat” in his 2018 re-election bid.

King, 72, who declined an interview request through a spokesman, is arguably Maine’s most prominent left-of-center voice, especially after the era of Gov. Paul LePage has broken the hold that Democrats had here for decades before the Republican governor’s 2010 election.

LePage is teasing a run against King, with state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, on the verge of announcing his own bid. Either would have a hard race against the popular King, who has steadily won over Democrats during his career while holding onto the political middle and the independent brand that many Republicans don’t buy.

King campaigned hard against the Democratic establishment at first, but he won over many of the party’s voters and some of its leaders. His foray into politics, after a legal and business career and 17 years hosting “Maine Watch,” a public broadcasting interview show, was aided by the fact that he was running against two imperfect major-party opponents.

In 1994, former two-term Democratic Gov. Joseph Brennan coasted to a primary win but faced criticism for being past his political prime, while a 41-year-old Susan Collins won a fractured eight-way Republican primary only to be abandoned at first by conservatives for moderate social positions, then by moderates for King when her campaign faltered.

King often attacked Brennan from the right for raising certain taxes and challenging him to present specific ways to cut government spending. He eked out a win with 35 percent of votes to Brennan’s 34 percent, with Collins at 23 percent.

He followed that with a 40-point victory in 1998, winning over Frank O’Hara of Hallowell, a former Brennan speechwriter who later volunteered for King. O’Hara praised the independent governor for “going out on a limb” to pass the program giving Apple laptops to schoolchildren, though he said King sometimes “frustrated” some who thought he could be bolder because of his popularity.

“He generally was one that liked to build a consensus before action, which is why people all feel he’s listening to them,” O’Hara said.

Joseph Bruno, a Republican from Raymond who was House minority leader during the last two years of King’s term, called him an “old-school conservative Democrat who understood that businesses had to prosper,” saying he was “never fooled” by King’s independent designation.

But he conceded that King was able to “play both sides” in the Legislature because he was a popular governor.

“He never wanted to be the governor that couldn’t govern without a party,” Bruno said. “So, when he needed business help he went to the Republicans, and when he needed social causes help he went with the Democrats.”

In the Senate, he has voted like a conservative Democrat and kept the party largely happy while maintaining some flexibility. King made his return to politics in 2012 after U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s abrupt retirement announcement, easily winning 53 percent of votes to defeat Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill, the latter of whom was abandoned by her party and got just 13 percent of votes.

In the Senate, King has voted like a centrist Democrat. He was the seventh-most conservative member of the Democratic caucus, according to National Journal ratings from the last congressional session to be published in the 2018 edition of the Almanac of American Politics. GovTrack’s analysis of sponsored bills rates him eighth in the caucus this year.

But King’s unaffiliated status allows him to do things Democrats can’t. In 2000, he endorsed Republican George W. Bush for president. He has endorsed Democrats for president and most other offices ever since, but he backed Collins in her landslide re-election in 2014.

He also has little appetite for obstruction, voting for 12 of President Donald Trump’s 18 Cabinet nominees, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and refusing so far to go along with Democrats’ plan to filibuster U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

“He’s really going to suss these things out by himself,” Dennis Bailey, a former spokesman for King, said. “Now, he has leanings toward the Democrats, so he may end up in the same place. But he’ll do it for a real reason.”

King hasn’t said how he’ll vote on Gorsuch, which will be a litmus test for progressives. Mainers for Accountability Leadership, a progressive group that has emerged to resist Trump, said in a news release last week directed at Collins and King that “we will make sure Mainers never forget that you sold out the women and LGBTQ Mainers” if they vote for Gorsuch.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, who lost to Collins in 2014, said she hopes King will join Democrats to oppose Gorsuch but that Mainers will evaluate King on “the totality of his votes” and on social issues and civil liberties, “he has been a solid progressive.”

King will be hard to beat, but he hasn’t gotten his campaign apparatus far off the ground and Republicans sense an opportunity. By all measures, this is King’s seat to lose. He had a 63 percent approval rating in a Morning Consult survey released last year.

But the race is fraught with unknowns, including whether LePage will jump in, whether a Democrat will run and whether Maine’s new ranked-choice voting system will be up by 2018.

The governor has hemmed and hawed about running against King for nearly two years and said recently that it’s up to his wife, Ann. Bruno said anyone will have a hard time against King but that the combative LePage “has potential to beat him and beat him up.”

“He does not want to see Paul LePage run against him,” Bruno said of King, “because, you know, the governor’s going to come out swinging … and all you need to do is land one big one.”

If LePage does run, Democratic higher-ups could look to avoid the type of three-way race that they have blamed for LePage’s two victories. They couldn’t stop a candidate from running, but they could shut off help in gathering signatures that qualify a challenger for the ballot.

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said many in his party are “pleased” with King, saying the party will evaluate how to approach the race and that he has urged the senator to “reach out to Democrats about why they should support him.”

Brakey, a second-term legislator and libertarian who formed a committee to explore running against King last month, said the senator hasn’t lived up to his independent status, calling it a “shtick” and saying he has won elections facing “wishy-washy” opposition.

“Maybe if you were to put up another cardboard, cookie-cutter politician to run against him, I don’t think that person would have a chance,” he said. “But I think if you put someone up against him who has actual principles, who has an actual message, who actually believes in something, I think that’s what makes the difference.”

There is one worrying sign for King — his paltry campaign bank account, which was lowest of all senators facing re-election next year at nearly $133,000 by 2016’s end. The average for those 34 senators was 14 times higher than King’s total.

King is also trying to deflect political talk, with spokesman Scott Ogden saying in a statement that “it’s time to govern, not focus on an election that’s two years away” and “Maine people are looking to Angus for steady, principled and common-sense leadership and that’s what he’s delivering.”

Bailey said King “doesn’t like campaigning,” never did and always directed his staff to “just get me there” because he “wants to govern.” But he said King doesn’t take races for granted.

Then, he recounted a recent dinner with his former boss, where Bailey said the senator dusted off a quote from a colleague: “Unless you’re running unopposed, you run scared.”

 

Why we publicly express moral outrage over coffee cups and war crimes

Moral outrage has taken on a new visibility thanks in part to social media platforms that allow people to effortlessly share their anger with the world. In an age of 24-hour news cycles, the issues can range from coffee cups to war atrocities.

Published March 31, 2017, at 6:08 a.m.     |    

Why we publicly express moral outrage over coffee cups and war crimes

Posted March 31, 2017, at 6:08 a.m.

When 109 travelers entering the United States were detained by an executive order blocking citizens from seven Muslim majority countries, tens of thousands of Americans gathered all over the country to voice their anger. The policy had little to no direct effect on the protesters themselves.

Similarly, more than four decades after Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized certain forms of abortion, people regularly gather to voice their anger at those providing abortion services.

Social psychologists refer to such displays of anger against a third party, such as a government, for perceived harm against someone as moral outrage.

Such moral outrage has taken on a new visibility thanks in part to social media platforms that allow people to effortlessly share their anger with the world. In an age of 24-hour news cycles, the issues can range from coffee cups to war atrocities.

As psychologists, we are particularly interested in understanding what research can tell us about the motives behind moral outrage.

Does outrage indicate concern for justice?

On the face of it, the willingness to express outrage could reflect an underlying concern with justice. Research has found that the more people are concerned with justice in general, the more moral outrage they express.

Furthermore, research shows bystanders’ level of moral outrage can predict their willingness to pursue justice for a victimized group, such as supporting political action, engaging in protest, or punishing a perpetrator.

From this perspective, outrage is driven by differing conceptions of what is just. For example, a recent Super Bowl ad featuring a Latino mother and young daughter making the long journey from Mexico to the United States — only to be confronted by a border wall — elicited very different responses of outrage. That’s because those who see the exclusion of immigrants as unjust and those who see maintaining a strict border as justified share a common desire to promote what they see as moral.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/f2rlWFL2Vks” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

But this does not explain why people sometimes engage in displays of outrage that, while highly visible, are unlikely to restore justice. For instance, it is unclear how injustice is rectified by tweeting one’s intention to boycott Hawaii after a federal judge from the state blocked the president’s revised travel ban.

Is outrage a signal to others?

From our perspective, such public displays of outrage make more sense if they are viewed as a means of communicating information about oneself. While announcing one’s desire to punish Hawaii by withholding business has no appreciable effect on the judicial process, it does communicate one’s political and social allegiances.

Researchers at Yale tested the idea that punishing a third party may signal one’s virtue to observers. They found that bystanders often were willing to sacrifice their own resources to punish another for unfair behavior. Such bystanders, who were viewed as more honest and trustworthy, profited in subsequent interactions.

Researchers also found that bystanders were less likely to punish people for their bad behavior if the bystanders could signal their virtuousness more easily, such as by helping someone.

But a “virtue signaling perspective” of outrage does not explain outrage regularly seen on platforms such as Twitter, TheBluePill on Reddit or 4chan where people commonly use anonymous handles to express outrage without being personally identified.

Furthermore, this research does not consider the fact that bystanders often contribute to, or at least benefit from, “illegitimate” harm-doing: Consumers may be outraged over the fact that garments are produced by sweatshop or child labor, yet still continue to support offending companies. In such cases, outrage is partially an attack on one’s own hypocrisy.

Is it a reflection of guilt?

So why do people express outrage even when a standard of justice is self-implicating or when they have no audience?

Our work highlights a third motive that is based on people’s desire to view themselves as morally upright people. Threats to one’s moral self-image have been shown to elicit unpleasant feelings of guilt that can motivate efforts to restore a positive view of oneself. This is commonly expressed by issuing an apology or making amends.

We wondered whether expressing moral outrage may be driven by these concerns. We tested this by manipulating and measuring people’s feelings of culpability for harm. We then assessed their outrage and desire to punish a third party for similar behavior.

Here’s how we did that.

In an initial study conducted in 2013, 133 college students came into the lab and read a fabricated news article that reminded them of how their choices harmed working-class Americans or not. Participants then read a second fabricated article implying that the financial gains of illegal immigrants were coming at a cost to working-class Americans.

We chose illegal immigrants as a target based on a fairly widespread belief that immigrants steal jobs from working-class Americans. After reading the second article, participants reported their anger and desire to punish illegal immigrants for harming the interests of working-class Americans.

We found that those who thought about their own actions and how they caused harm expressed increased outrage and a greater desire to punish illegal immigrants.

More recently, we conducted a series of five studies with more than 1,000 American adults. We explored the relationship between guilt and outrage over labor exploitation and destructive environmental practices in corporations.

In one study, participants read a fabricated news article that either blamed the harmful effects of climate change on their own consumer behavior or on Chinese consumers. Participants then rated their guilt over their environmental impact either before or after completing a separate questionnaire allowing them to express outrage at multinational oil companies’ environmentally destructive practices.

We found that those exposed to information attributing climate change to their own behavior felt more guilt unless they had the opportunity to first express outrage at oil companies. Furthermore, we found that those who felt greater guilt subsequently expressed more outrage.

But how do we know that outrage is motivated by a desire to feel morally worthy?

In another study, participants rated their feelings of guilt about contributing to sweatshop labor conditions and their outrage at a corporation’s harmful sweatshop labor practices. But between ratings of guilt and outrage we manipulated whether participants had the opportunity to affirm their own moral character.

Specifically, half of the participants were asked to write something about themselves that made them feel like a “good and decent person.” We found that guiltier participants were more outraged about sweatshop labor unless they had the opportunity to write about their own personal moral goodness beforehand.

In other words, bolstering their moral self-image diminished the amount of outrage expressed by those who initially reported high levels of guilt.

More complicated than it seems

The point is that outrage is much more than an obvious response to injustice. Our view is that outrage is not “merely” a concern with justice, a way to appear virtuous to others, nor even a way to cope with personal guilt. Rather, it is a culmination of many factors that may all play a role.

Our research confirms that not all outrage is “virtue signaling.” Participants completed an anonymous online survey where answers could not be traced back to them. Even if participants wanted to “look good” despite that anonymity, mere “virtue signaling” would not explain why we found that outrage increased as a function of guilt, nor why we found that allowing people to feel personally moral dampened expressions of outrage.

Second, research suggests that not all outrage is merely self-serving. While our work supports this idea, other research shows that outrage fuels activism and motivates groups to promote social change. In other words, there is evidence to suggest that outrage can have genuinely moral motives and goals or that it can be driven by personal insecurities or, more likely, some combination thereof.

Third, our research shows that outrage works essentially the same way across the political spectrum. We found that reminding people of their own harmful behavior evoked outrage for both token conservative (illegal immigration) and liberal issues (climate change and sweatshop labor). Moreover, guilt predicted outrage regardless of whether participants identified as being politically liberal or conservative.

Is outrage merely for show? Not so

In trying to understand what motivates outrage, we would argue that concerns about injustice, social appearance and personal guilt all play a modest role.

To the extent that we value respectful politics, we should acknowledge that an individual’s outrage may in part be about their own needs rather than about the issue per se.

Does that mean that outrage is illegitimate or merely for show? Absolutely not.

Instead, we see the evolving science on outrage as highlighting motives and functions that competing groups share. Recognizing this psychological common ground may help to defuse some of today’s more intractable social and political conflicts.

Zachary K. Rothschild is an assistant professor of psychology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. Lucas A. Keefer is an assistant professor in psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. This piece was originally published on TheConversation.com.

 

”The

Gov. Paul LePage addresses the chamber during the 2017 State of the State address at the State House in Augusta, Feb. 7, 2017.

Why Maine lawmakers spend so much time on bills that have no chance

For the sake of stability, the failure of bad ideas and the formation of consensus, democracy is supposed to be hard.

Published March 26, 2017, at 7:20 a.m.     |    

Why Maine lawmakers spend so much time on bills that have no chance

Posted March 26, 2017, at 7:20 a.m.
Last modified March 26, 2017, at 6:05 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — More than 1,800 bills are under consideration by the Legislature this year, but if history is any indication, fewer than half of them have any chance of ever becoming law.

In the past 10 legislative sessions, which date back 20 years, the highest percentage of bills that have made it into the law was 48 percent in the 119th Legislature, which convened in 1999 and 2000.

Most years, the total was much lower: 36 percent in the 126th and 127th legislatures, and less than 25 percent in the 117th, 118th, 120th and 122nd legislatures.

According to a 2016 analysis by FiscalNote, several states have bill passage rates above 60 percent. Colorado, for example, typically sees about 600 bills go through the legislative process but usually passes well more than half of them. Others, such as New York, where more than 12,000 bills were introduced last year, have far less success. Empire State legislators enacted only about 10 percent of submitted bills last year. It was worse in Connecticut. A meager 38 of 2,316 bills passed there last year, which equates to less than 2 percent.

In Maine, most bills are disposed of in the first year of every two-year legislative session. For the 128th Legislature, that’s this year. Midway through the session, the committee process is approaching full bore. Last week alone, several dozen bills were killed at the committee level with unanimous ought-not-to-pass recommendations. In another month the frenzy will transfer to the House and Senate, and by June, the Legislature will meet four or five days per week, sometimes well past dark, to deal with all the bills.

So, why do lawmakers introduce so many pieces of legislation they know are doomed to fail?

The process

Maine has basically no limits on the number of bills each lawmaker can propose. Between Election Day and the deadline for bills to be submitted — which is usually in December or January — lawmakers may submit as many bill proposals as they want. In the second year of the legislative session, legislative leaders must approve all new bill requests. This year, Republican Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton and Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, are tied so far with 43 bill submissions each.

Every Maine bill has its day in the sun. How states handle bill requests varies widely, but in many states, there are mechanisms for legislative leaders or committees to kill bill concepts before they are even written. In some states, such as Massachusetts, the leaders of the House and Senate must agree to bring a bill to floor debate.

That’s not the case in Maine, where virtually every single bill is drafted by the Legislature’s Revisor of Statutes. Every bill requires votes in the House and Senate to send them to a committee. Once there, they all have a public hearing, work session and eventually a vote. Any bill that has at least one committee vote in favor goes back to the House and Senate for further consideration.

“That’s extremely unusual,” said former Democratic Speaker of the House Mike Saxl, now a consultant who has worked on legislation in roughly 40 states. “Most states allow committees to kill or table bills inside their committees. I have never heard of another state where a 12-1 ‘ought not to pass’ bill comes to the floor for a vote.”

Former Republican Senate President Rick Bennett said the Legislature’s joint rules should be overhauled. Among the needed changes is a later deadline for bills so legislative committees could convene first, debate the issues, then write bills.

“That would empower the rank and file to create consensus as the bill is being written rather than in some sort of kludgy amendment process,” he said. “The Legislature is its own worst enemy in terms of how it allocates its time and energy.”

The people

Legislators old and new want to make their marks. Maine law limits the number of consecutive terms a lawmaker can serve in either the House or Senate at four. Over time, that increases the churn of lawmakers who enter and exit legislative service, which in turn increases instances of repeated attempts of concepts that have failed in past years. Examples range from efforts to allow hunting on Sundays to implementing single-payer health care — perennial favorites that perennially fail.

Legislators benefit by doing favors for the people who vote for them. Many bills originate from constituent requests. Anyone who can convince his or her lawmaker to submit a bill can potentially see the concept become law. That results in a high number of bills with extremely narrow focuses, such as proposals this year to allow unlicensed hedgehogs as pets or past efforts by rural Maine residents to secede from their town.

The politics

Sometimes persistence pays off. One reason for bringing back the same concepts year after year is that drawing attention to even a losing issue raises its profile and chances of eventual success. Gay rights and same-sex marriage are examples of issues over which there were years of debate before they became law. Maine banned marriage for same-sex couples in 1997 but established domestic partnerships in 2004. The Legislature legalized same-sex marriage in 2009 but the law was repealed by citizen referendum later that year. In 2012, another referendum allowed the same-sex marriage law that is on the books today.

The political parties propose bills every session they know are nonstarters. In recent years, the relatively close number of Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate has meant that for emergency legislation or to overturn a veto, neither party has had the two-thirds majority to push through whatever they want without winning over some of the opposing party. Still, a lot of bills are submitted and resubmitted just to force lawmakers from one party or the other into voting on a given issue — which can later become powerful campaign fodder. Recent examples of that have included numerous attempts by Democrats to expand Maine’s Medicaid program and proposals by Republicans for gun control and deep tax cuts.

The pros and cons

The volume of bills makes for a lot of busywork and distracts from the most important issues. Former Republican lawmaker Peter Mills of Cornville has long been a critic of Maine’s legislative process.

“For the first three months, little is accomplished but the routine reference of bills, an exercise to test whether majority committee chairs can read in public,” he wrote in a 2009 screed he recently gave to the Bangor Daily News. “With the advent of term limits, the Maine Legislature is in greater danger than ever of becoming a passive, reactive and impotent body.”

Bennett said the legislative process is set when the joint rules are voted in, typically on the first day lawmakers meet. Major changes to the process would require the election of legislative leaders with singular focus on the process.

“Nobody gives it much thought,” said Bennett. “The people who are elected are there because they are concerned about certain issues. … The legislative process in itself is not as interesting and not a motivator.”

Having few limits on bill submissions creates a lot of work, but it’s good for democracy. Power to the people is preserved when laymen have sway in the process.

“There’s very little separation between Maine citizens and their Legislature,” said Saxl, who backed efforts during his legislative service to reduce the number of bills in Maine — to no avail. “I really love and admire that. It’s extraordinary how an ordinary person in Maine can make an impact on the process if they have a passion.”

While it’s fun to read about the strange, cute and petty ideas Maine legislators try to get into law, and while it keeps the Maine Legislature busy for at least 10 months out of every two years, the fact is that a small percentage of what they talk about each session becomes law. Let’s not forget that that’s what the nation’s founders intended. For the sake of stability, the failure of bad ideas and the formation of consensus, democracy is supposed to be hard.

The Oakhurst lawsuit gives grammarians everywhere reason to rejoice

The Maine case strikes a blow for the importance of clarity against the Oxford comma’s opponents.

Published March 24, 2017, at 6 a.m.     |    

The Oakhurst lawsuit gives grammarians everywhere reason to rejoice

Posted March 24, 2017, at 6 a.m.
Last modified March 26, 2017, at 8:03 a.m.

Portland-based company Oakhurst Dairy will potentially owe $10 million to 75 milk-truck drivers in Maine because of a missing comma in a legal clause.

Last week, Judge David J. Barron in the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an appeal in a class-action lawsuit, opening his opinion with “ For want of a comma, we have this case.”

Three dairy-truck drivers sued Oakhurst Dairy in 2014 for four years of unpaid overtime wages. The case hinged on the missing comma after “packing for shipment” in the following clause of Maine state law, which lists exemptions from overtime:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

The missing comma, in this case, would have separated “packing for shipment” and “distribution” into distinct activities, both exempt from overtime. Without the comma, the drivers argued, the law refers only to the act of packing, for the purpose of either shipping or distributing.

There are other grammatical issues with this clause (neatly unpacked in more detail by Mary Norris in The New Yorker) but David Webbert, a lawyer for the drivers, told The New York Times “ That comma would have sunk our ship.”

The contentious comma

This contentious comma is the serial comma, often called the “Oxford comma” and in some circles the “Harvard comma.” It comes before the final “and” or “or” in a series (a list of three or more items). For example, “Stone fruits include apricots, plums, and nectarines.”

Although some think it’s clunky, the Maine case strikes a blow for the importance of clarity. Consider this particularly spectacular example, supposedly from a TV listing in The Times:

“By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”

There are two lists in this example that omit the serial comma, although only the second really demands it to eliminate ambiguity. (It’s worth noting that, even with an additional comma that would prevent Nelson Mandela from being a dildo collector, the sentence is so poorly phrased he could conceivably still be an 800-year-old demigod.)

The Maine Legislature’s drafting guidelines actually recommend against using the serial comma, advising that any confusing sentence be entirely rewritten. But the appellate judge is obviously a fan, saying “We would be remiss not to note the clarifying virtues of serial commas that other jurisdictions recognize.”

He elaborates by stating that both chambers of Congress warn against omitting the serial comma “to prevent any misreading that the last item is part of the preceding one” and says that only seven of the American states — including Maine — “either do not require or expressly prohibit the use of the serial comma.”

I’m with the judge and the other 43 states. I am a lifetime devotee of the serial comma, believing that it ensures clarity and aesthetic consistency. For reasons that I have never been able to fathom, its mention inevitably evokes fierce controversy. More than 1,000 people commented on The Guardian website within 24 hours of the comma story being published last week.

You’re with me, or against me, or ambivalent

People either strongly advocate its use at all times (as I do); weakly (in my opinion) allow its use only if its absence could cause ambiguity; or dismiss it altogether by recommending that the sentence be rewritten so that ambiguity is not an issue.

Those who make exceptions to the “no-serial-comma rule” when a sentence would be confusing include the Australian government in its Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers. This doesn’t even mention the term “serial comma,” stating “sometimes a comma is placed between the last two items to ensure clarity.”

The New Yorker uses the serial comma, according to its own style guide. The New York Times follows The Associated Press Stylebook, which gives a somewhat ambiguous (or possibly contradictory) example:

“In a series use commas to separate items but no comma before a conjunction e.g. ‘We bought eggs, milk and cheese at the store.’”

What’s happened to the comma that we have been told to use between the “milk” and “cheese” items?

Most key academic style guides recommend the serial comma. Robert Ritter, author of The Oxford Guide to Style, enthusiastically endorses it. It has been part of Oxford University Press style for more than a century. The quintessential English author Beatrix Potter used it. I have a china mug telling me that “Once upon a time there were four little rabbits: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.”

On the other hand, educational guidelines have a more confused approach. The U.K. National Curriculum horrifyingly warns that “the mark will not be awarded if a serial comma is used in a list of simple items. For example, this would be unacceptable: We bought apples, cheese, and milk.”

What happens in the Australian educational context?

New South Wales provides teachers with advice about the serial comma and other punctuation marks that is appallingly written and includes an egregious punctuation error: “Its used … [sic]”

“Use an ‘Oxford comma’ or it can be referred to as the ‘serial comma,’ to clarify list items that are more than one.”

The Queensland Curriculum Authority disappointingly advises that “No comma is needed before the ‘and’ that precedes the final item in the list.”

Readers’ comprehension of our writing is paramount. The serial comma aids clarity and it should be taught in all Australian schools.

The Maine case was not only marred by missing commas, but generally shoddy language use. The law had been revised since it was first drafted, but it had not been clarified. Where were the grammarians when this law was being drafted?

It’s very possible that, whether Oakhurst Dairy fights on, the serial comma will join the ranks of eponymous punctuation marks like the greengrocers’ apostrophe as the “milk-truck drivers’ comma.”

Roslyn Petelin is an associate professor in writing at the University of Queensland in Australia. This piece was originally published on TheConversation.com.

The Conversation

Mark Charette of Fort Kent, delivers home heating oil to a Fort Kent resident, Thursday, Dec. 1, during the season's first big snow event.

Bangor would be hardest-hit by Trump cuts to heating aid

Bangor, Lewiston and Skowhegan would get hit hardest by cuts to federal heating assistance in President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget.

Published March 23, 2017, at 3:02 p.m.     |    

Bangor would be hardest-hit by Trump cuts to heating aid

Posted March 23, 2017, at 3:02 p.m.
Last modified March 23, 2017, at 3:59 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Bangor, Lewiston and Skowhegan would get hit hardest by cuts to federal heating assistance in President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget.

Homes in those three communities were the top recipients of aid last year through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps people pay for heating fuel.

The federal money also supports state weatherization programs. Maine’s plan is targeted to help populations most susceptible to hypothermia, primarily elderly residents and young children, with about 60 percent of the funds helping people pay heating costs.

Trump’s budget proposal says the program “is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes,” putting it on the chopping block next to a raft of programs his administration identified as underperforming.

The budget still has to make its way through Congress, where support for the program has cut across partisan lines. Gov. Paul LePage and members of Maine’s congressional delegation lined up in opposition to LIHEAP cuts made in 2011, during Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.

That move cut LIHEAP funding almost in half, where it’s remained in recent years. The proposal to slash the program entirely stands to affect thousands of low-income Maine households who still benefit from the program come winter.

One person living alone must make $17,820 a year or less to qualify. It’s $36,450 to qualify for a family of four, with higher thresholds for households with someone particularly vulnerable to hypothermia, according to eligibility guidelines from MaineHousing.

Statewide, the program provided about $22 million to help 40,221 households pay heating costs last year. That works out to average aid of $546 for each home.

Data from the Maine State Housing Authority show where the bulk of that heating assistance went last year, when Bangor overtook Lewiston for the highest share of the state aid. Penobscot County received about 14 percent of the total aid.

While those communities received the largest distributions in heating assistance from the program, other farther-flung towns would face deeper cuts per household if the program’s funding disappeared.

In Lincoln County, for instance, the average benefit was $689 per household last year. Nine other counties had higher average benefits than Penobscot.

For some island communities, the data show a handful of LIHEAP recipients who used more than $1,000 in aid to pay for heating last year.

Among that group with the highest average benefits, the coastal communities of Machiasport and Nobleboro had the most households in the program.

 

Gov. Paul LePage advises Brooklyn Tarbox, 10, of Gorham how to hammer a tap into the maple tree on the Blaine House lawn in Augusta last week.

How LePage found a Land for Maine’s Future project he can support

Bucking his pattern of opposing taxpayer-funded conservation projects, Gov. Paul LePage is backing a proposal that could clinch a $5.7 million easement on property that includes a major maple forest in Somerset County.

Published March 21, 2017, at 1 a.m.     |    

How LePage found a Land for Maine’s Future project he can support

Posted March 21, 2017, at 1 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Bucking his pattern of opposing taxpayer-funded conservation projects, Gov. Paul LePage is backing a proposal that could clinch a $5.7 million easement on property that includes a major maple forest in Somerset County.

The Big Six Forest is widely seen as worth protecting, and LePage’s early support is perfunctory, yet notable in part because of the governor’s past criticism of the Land for Maine’s Future program and past insinuations of corruption. Big Six’s owner is a LePage donor.

It could also spark a wider policy debate: While LePage’s office couched support for the project as consistent with his jobs-minded approach, a land trust official said it shows how the governor has favored rural conservation over more accessible projects near population centers.

The 23,600-acre property contains the head of the St. John River along the Quebec border and may have America’s biggest sugarbush with 340,000 taps that in 2013 yielded 24 percent of Maine’s maple sugar production and 3.4 percent of the national output, according to documents filed with the state in 2014.

It’s owned by Paul Fortin, a Madison businessman who would get roughly $5.7 million for a conservation easement if The Trust for Public Land can finish a slightly larger fundraising effort, according to JT Horn, a project manager for the conservation group.

The effort also won $3.5 million in 2014 as the last project that LePage allowed to be submitted to the federal Forest Legacy program. That money can make up no more than 75 percent of total project funds, so Land for Maine’s Future often must close gaps as it has done for some past projects.

Horn said Big Six plans to ask for funding under Land for Maine’s Future, whose board is now considering whether to authorize up to $4.25 million in bond money left from statewide elections in 2010 and 2012 to projects later this year. Fortin said they’re considering other funding methods, too, such as carbon credits.

The proposed easement would preserve the sugarbush, mandate sound forestry and forever open the property to recreational activities, including hunting, fishing and snowmobiling.

“The maple industry and really securing that future for the maple industry in Maine is the headline” for Horn’s group, he said, “and the recreational values are a nice add-on.”

‘It’s the right thing to do for the state’

Fortin’s past support for LePage’s political causes has raised eyebrows. He gave $20,000 to the governor’s political action committee last year and made $6,000 in personal and business contributions to LePage’s 2014 re-election campaign.

But the story of this property is more complicated: LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said in an email that it “remained consistent in his support for projects that promote working waterfronts and forests, which create good-paying jobs for Mainers.”

Fortin said he often donates to conservative and community causes and that it wasn’t about currying favor.

A state task force on the maple industry said in 2011 that preserving Big Six was a priority. Afterward, Fortin said LePage administration officials heard he might log the land amid high pulp prices in 2012.

He didn’t disclose a figure but said he forfeited such a windfall that “you might be ashamed of me as a businessman” for not cutting the trees. That started the easement push.

“Bottom line: It’s the right thing to do for the state,” Fortin said. “It would have been a shame to cut them.”

There are other pressures: Big Six borders the Chaudiere-Appalaches region of Quebec that’s noted for hunting, and Fortin has said he often gets unsolicited offers for camp lots.

In 2014, a real estate agent in Quebec City — less than 80 miles away — told the state that because such lots in Quebec are in short supply, Big Six lots would sell “at an astonishing rate” to Canadians. The parcel is easier to access from Quebec than most of Maine because of a border crossing 2 miles away at Sainte-Aurelie.

History of conflict

LePage has had a difficult relationship with Land for Maine’s Future: He spent much of 2015 withholding $11.5 million in voter-approved bonds and has blamed land trusts for inflating property taxes by making land tax-exempt.

Money has flowed to certain projects since then — including the Cold Stream Forest in Somerset County. However, other projects didn’t get money.

LePage appointees on the board slashed funding for Howard Hill, a project to preserve the forest backdrop to the Maine State House in Augusta after a dispute over an appraisal. One member resigned in protest.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who fought LePage on bond issuance, is the law partner of Sumner Lipman, who owned Howard Hill. The governor made comments in 2015 that many interpreted as wrongly insinuating that Katz would benefit from that deal, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Alan Stearns, executive director of the Royal River Conservation Trust, who had a project held up in the dispute, said the Big Six project is worthy, but the “pipeline for state funding” has become “smaller and more volatile” under LePage.

“I wish there were as much support for southern Maine open space and recreation projects as there are for remote forestland,” he said.

If the Land for Maine’s Future board chooses to issue money later this year, applicants would have to meet the board’s criteria to get awards. The board is now developing criteria — or the “workbook” — that would guide them in scoring those projects.

Once bids come in, LePage has no official influence on project selection. But he has appointed five board members and the three other spots are held by his department commissioners — Walter Whitcomb of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; Chandler Woodcock of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; and Patrick Keliher of Marine Resources.

John Bott, a spokesman for Whitcomb’s department, said in emails that it backs the project in a normal “sponsorship role” in which staff “work with applicants to ensure that all relevant criteria are met and all required component pieces are included” in an application.

Whitcomb declined an interview request through Bott, who said commissioners don’t typically advocate for projects because they’re on the board. Bott also said “discussion of this and other potential applications is premature until all the projects and applicants are known.”

But Horn has a theory on why LePage likes the project: It “ties back to a forest products industry, to jobs, to people that are reliant on the North Woods for their business.”

“We might have a broader view of conservation, but if we have a project that fits with the governor’s priorities, we’re happy to take whatever political support we can get,” he said.

 

Gov. Paul LePage answers questions from broadcast media following a maple tree tapping ceremony on the Blaine House lawn in mid-March.

Why LePage is spending more time talking to national conservative media

“[Gov. Paul LePage is] good about keeping the guessing game going. That’s a good approach no matter what you’re planning next. Keep them guessing.”

Published March 19, 2017, at 7:26 a.m.     |    

Why LePage is spending more time talking to national conservative media

Posted March 19, 2017, at 7:26 a.m.
Last modified March 19, 2017, at 7:53 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage spent weeks away from Augusta in February and March, piling up public appearances in Washington, D.C., national conservative media exposure and rumors about whether he’ll finish his second term as Maine’s governor.

While he was publicly focused on trying to influence debate about congressional Republicans’ plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, LePage’s foray into national politics — and the timing, 20 months before a major election — bears the hallmarks of a politician who is quietly testing the waters for his next venture.

Speculation has abounded for years about whether LePage will leave the Blaine House early. Although his staff has called that chatter “juicy rumors and false innuendo,” the governor has often fueled speculation with mixed messages about his plans.

He said during his first term that he was considering a run for Congress, and he has stated multiple times that he might try to unseat independent U.S. Sen. Angus King in the 2018. Embroiled in controversy amid calls for his resignation over his harsh comments to a Democratic lawmaker in August 2016, LePage said he was “looking at all of the options.”

He has also, at times, sounded like he isn’t going anywhere until after term limits push him out of the Blaine House in January 2019. Earlier this month, he dismissed rumors about whether he’s after a job in the Trump administration as “wishful thinking on the parts of my adversaries.” He also said as recently as November 2016 that “I was elected governor of the state of Maine, and I intend to see it through.”

Dennis Bailey, a campaign strategist who has worked for mostly Democrats and was communications director for King when he was governor, said LePage has the look of a guy with handlers trying to polish his image.

“He’s good about keeping the guessing game going,” Bailey said. “That’s a good approach no matter what you’re planning next. Keep them guessing.”

What does he want?

Opportunities are ripe, and LePage has paid his dues. The switch of presidential power from Democrat to Republican means there are hundreds of positions to fill with conservatives such as LePage. LePage was an early and aggressive Trump endorser at a time when most Republicans were shunning the would-be president, and he was there to prime the crowds during some of Trump’s Maine campaign stops. That sort of support during a bruising campaign has yielded rewards as long as there have been elections.

As one of the first elected Republicans to endorse Trump, LePage has political capital. He’s using it to try to steer Trump, whose political ideology has shifted often, to advance policies that reflect the governor’s bedrock conservative principles. By granting interviews to Breitbart, Laura Ingraham, Fox News and other conservative outlets, LePage has cast his voice beyond Maine to rally a core constituency — the roughly 40 percent of voters who identify as conservative — to pressure Trump to make government reflect their values.

Payback from Trump might not come in the form of a federal job or ambassadorship, which LePage has said appeals to him, but in policies or decisions that allow LePage to cement his legacy in Maine or nationally as a conservative reformer.

There is a populist uprising on which to capitalize. LePage’s two elections and Trump’s anti-government campaign to the presidency indicate that the key purple segment of the electorate that’s not hard right or hard left is gravitating toward outsider candidates who promise to tear down establishment institutions and push the political envelope. LePage is just that kind of candidate — though the fact that Trump and Republicans can no longer claim the “outsider” title puts them in the crosshairs.

With history showing that a midterm congressional election swing toward Democrats in 2018 is a real possibility, conservatives such as LePage have a sense of urgency to promoting their agenda. Frustrated by the slow, deliberative pace of the legislative process — even when it is shepherded by Republicans — they’ve assigned themselves to be the voices of regular people frustrated by government inaction.

For now, LePage’s solidly conservative accomplishments in Maine — reducing welfare rolls, paying off debt — and storybook life story make him a key player in that effort, attracting attention well beyond Maine, according to Tarren Bragdon, a conservative activist who led LePage’s transition team in 2010 and has worked with him on policy for years.

“People are very impressed and moved by the governor’s own life story and by his track record in Maine. They’re interested in hearing what he has to say,” said Bragdon, who added that the governor’s recent visits to Washington were about policy, not posturing. “Gov. LePage has a lot of weight in the federal debate. Not just because he’s using his bully pulpit but because he can point to his accomplishments.”

LePage’s people say all of this hubbub is about LePage’s pursuit of policy goals. In this case, his goals include pushing congressional Republicans’ plan for replacing Obamacare more conservative by ending incentives for Medicaid expansion, among other items. Bragdon and Brent Littlefield, LePage’s political strategist, say it’s as simple as that.

“[LePage’s visits to Washington] are just policy based,” Littlefield said. “Whenever you have a change in the administration, there’s going to be more opportunities for policy changes.”

But LePage will soon be a lame duck governor. In some ways, the governor’s biennial budget proposal, which is pending in the Legislature, is his last, biggest chance to further his agenda. He is free to introduce bills to the Legislature at any time, but last year’s return of a Democratic majority to the House of Representatives cemented the fact that the opposing party can block any bill it doesn’t like. Those maneuvers have frustrated LePage to extremes in the past; he has voiced disgust in lawmakers for opposing him on everything from education and energy reforms to fighting the drug addiction crisis.

The debate over the state budget will be over by the end of June — barring an impasse that would shut down state government — which could present some choices for LePage. After a budget passes, he said last week, “I can start looking, and then my wife and I will start talking about what we want to do when we grow up.”

Political calculus

Political strategists are taking notice of LePage’s recent exposure on conservative media. In the past few weeks, LePage has appeared in prime slots on Fox and Friends, Your World Cavuto and Breitbart News, among others, and influential radio hosts Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck have discussed Maine’s governor in glowing terms.

Vic Berardelli, a retired conservative political consultant from Newburgh, said exposure like that is not easy to secure and is usually orchestrated.

“National exposure in conservative media is often the first step of attracting political donors from around the country,” Berardelli said. “It’s well orchestrated. … It looks like he’s being groomed, that somebody is coaching him.”

Democrats who have underestimated LePage for years continue to look for vulnerabilities. The party regained control of the Legislature in 2012 with a campaign built on attacks against LePage, but a similar effort failed in 2014, when he won re-election and Republicans seized control of the Maine Senate.

His “guessing game” continues to keep Democrats occupied, with focus now on whether he will seek another elective office or a high-level job in the Trump administration.

“A confirmation hearing would be almost unwinnable for him,” said Matt McTighe, a Democratic activist and strategist who led Democrat Mike Michaud’s unsuccessful campaign against LePage in 2014. “It’s just so hard to imagine that there’s any job out there that he could get confirmation for.”

McTighe said Democrats are monitoring the possibility that LePage is planning a run against King or possibly Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st Congressional District.

“Right now would be the right time to be coming down to Washington and kissing the rings of donors if you’re looking at a 2018 election,” McTighe said. “But only LePage knows what LePage’s motives and intentions are.”

LePage is doing what he does best but on a bigger stage. Retail politics at the local level propelled LePage to two terms in the Blaine House. He connects with people personally at meetings of business groups, conservative gatherings and job-site visits, cementing support among voters frustrated by bureaucracy while not wasting time trying to convince those with whom he disagrees. Despite serving as Maine’s chief executive since 2011, he still manages to assign blame for that frustration to his political foes, mostly Democrats and legislators in general. In doing so, he has kept Democrats largely on the defensive.

In the past two months, he’s taken that strategy to the national level.

With an ideologically fractured national electorate, LePage’s more prominent profile in the conservative media universe bears watching as a barometer of the conservative movement’s and Trump’s abilities to hold onto their images as populist reformers.

The Point Climate change

Curbing climate change has a dollar value. This is how we measure it.

While burning fossil fuels produces benefits, it also generates widespread costs to society — including damages from climate change.

Published March 17, 2017, at 5:55 a.m.     |    

Curbing climate change has a dollar value. This is how we measure it.

Posted March 17, 2017, at 5:55 a.m.

President Donald Trump is expected to issue an executive order soon to reverse Obama-era rules to cut carbon pollution, including a moratorium on leasing public lands for coal mining and a plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

Trump and his appointees argue that these steps will bring coal miners’ jobs back (although coal industry job losses reflect competition from cheap natural gas, not regulations that have yet to take effect). But they ignore the fact that mitigating climate change will produce large economic gains.

While burning fossil fuels produces benefits, such as powering the electric grid and fueling cars, it also generates widespread costs to society — including damages from climate change that affect people around the world now and in the future. Public policies that reduce carbon pollution deliver benefits by avoiding these damages.

Since the Reagan administration, federal agencies have been required to enact only regulations whose potential benefits to society justify or outweigh their potential costs. To quantify benefits from acting to curb climate change, the U.S. government developed a formal measure in 2009 of the value of reducing carbon pollution, which is referred to as the social cost of carbon, or SCC. Currently, federal agencies use an SCC figure of about $40 per ton in today’s dollars.

Now the Trump administration and critics in Congress may reduce this figure or even stop using it. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s recent comment that carbon dioxide is not “a primary contributor” to climate change suggests that Pruitt may challenge the agency’s 2009 finding that carbon emissions are pollutants and threaten human health.

As an economist for the White House, I was a member of the working group that developed the first government-wide SCC estimate. We can always improve our processes for estimating and using the SCC, but getting rid of it would be a mistake. A well-functioning democracy needs transparency about the economic benefits of investments driven by public policy — as well as the benefits we give up when we walk away from making these investments.

The value of avoiding hurricanes, wildfires

Scientists widely agree that carbon dioxide emissions, primarily from burning fossil fuels, pose significant risks to Earth’s climate. Intuitively, it makes sense that reducing carbon emissions benefits society by reducing risks of flooding, wildfires, storms and other impacts associated with severe climate change.

We can estimate the benefits of many goods and services, from pop music to recreation, from the prices people pay for them in markets. But valuing environmental benefits is not so simple. Americans can’t go to the store and buy a stable climate.

Carbon pollution drives global warming that causes many different impacts on the natural and built environment and human health. Because carbon emissions have such broad and diverse impacts, scholars have developed models to characterize the economic benefits (or costs) of reducing them.

Current U.S. government practice draws from three peer-reviewed integrated assessment models. An integrated assessment model represents a chain of events, starting with economic activities that involve fossil fuel combustion. This generates carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change.

And climate change causes outcomes that can be measured in monetary terms. For example, rising carbon pollution will increase the likelihood of lower agricultural yields, threaten public health through heat stress and damage infrastructure through floods and intense storms.

Thousands of scenarios

The social cost of carbon represents the damages of 1 ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the air. To estimate it, economists run models that forecast varying levels of carbon dioxide emissions. They can then model and compare two forecasts — one with slightly higher emissions than the other. The difference in total climate change damages represents the social cost of carbon.

Carbon pollution can remain in the atmosphere for up to 200 years, so these models are run over a century or more in order to account for long-term damages that carbon emissions impose on society.

SCC estimates are based on chains of events that include many uncertainties — for example, how many tons of carbon will be emitted in a given year, the amount of warming that will result, and how severely this warming will exacerbate risks like floods and heat waves. Since we cannot predict any single scenario with certainty, the U.S. government has modeled hundreds of thousands of different scenarios to produce its SCC estimates.

Some model scenarios, based on admittedly extreme assumptions, produce negative SCC estimates; that is, they find that carbon pollution is good for the planet. But the vast majority of scenarios show that carbon pollution is bad for the planet, and that on average, every ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere imposes damages equal to about $40 in today’s dollars.

Balancing costs, benefits of regulations

The federal government began calculating a social cost of carbon after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in 2007 that the U.S. Department of Transportation had to account for climate benefits from its regulations to improve automobile fuel economy. Environmental groups and a dozen states challenged the regulations, in part because the Bush administration had valued the benefits of cutting carbon dioxide emissions at zero.

In response, the Obama administration created a working group in 2009 with officials from 12 agencies to develop the federal government’s first official SCC estimate. Our initial figure of $25 for 2010 was updated in 2013, 2015 and 2016, reflecting updates in the underlying models.

Agencies have used these estimates in benefit-cost analyses for scores of federal regulations, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, the Department of Transportation’s medium and heavy-duty vehicle fuel economy standards and the U.S. Department of Energy’s minimum efficiency standard for refrigerators and freezers. Some of these studies were required only by executive order, but others were required by law. Unless the authorizing statutes are amended, the Trump administration will have to produce analyses accounting for carbon pollution reduction benefits if it wants to issue new regulations that can withstand legal challenges.

The Trump administration could continue to use SCC estimates in regulatory evaluations, but water them down. For example, some scholars have called for focusing only on domestic benefits — as opposed to total global benefits — of reducing carbon pollution in the United States. Emitting a ton of carbon imposes damages in the U.S. and around the world, just as a ton emitted in Beijing imposes damages on the U.S. and other countries around the world. Considering only the domestic impacts of carbon pollution could lower the SCC by three-quarters.

But if the U.S. ignores the benefits of reducing carbon pollution that other countries enjoy, then those other countries may follow suit and consider only how cutting emissions will benefit them internally. This approach ignores the strategic value that serves as the primary motivation for countries to work together to combat climate change. The world would achieve much greater emissions reductions and greater net economic benefits if countries implement policies based on the global social cost of carbon instead of a domestic-only SCC.

As climate change science and economics continue to evolve, our tools for estimating benefits from reducing carbon pollution will need to evolve and improve. In January the National Academies of Sciences published a report that lays out an extensive research agenda for improving the estimation and use of the social cost of carbon.

The federal government has used used benefit-cost analysis to calculate society’s bottom line from regulations for decades. So far, the Trump administration appears to be focused solely on costs — an approach that maximizes the corporate bottom line, but leaves the public out of the equation.

Joseph Aldy is an associate professor of public policy at Harvard University. This piece was originally published on TheConversation.com.

The Conversation

 

Attendees of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's Bangor rally listen to Trump as he speaks to the crowd at the Cross Insurance Center on Oct. 15, 2016.

The part of Maine that backed Trump is least likely to benefit from GOP health plan

Areas of Maine that backed President Donald Trump in last year’s election stand to lose the most federal aid to buy health insurance under the House Republicans’ plan.

Published March 15, 2017, at 3:33 p.m.     |    

The part of Maine that backed Trump is least likely to benefit from GOP health plan

Posted March 15, 2017, at 3:33 p.m.
Last modified April 25, 2017, at 11:45 a.m.

Areas of Maine that backed President Donald Trump in last year’s election stand to lose the most federal aid to buy health insurance under the House Republicans’ plan to repeal Obamacare, an analysis of Maine voter and tax credit data shows.

In much of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District — which awarded Trump one of the state’s four electoral votes in a historic split — low-income residents would fare worse under the plan. Particularly hard hit would be older Mainers in those northern counties, even those earning middle-class wages.

By contrast, in Maine’s generally younger 1st District, which went heavily for Democrat Hillary Clinton, residents at nearly all income levels would receive more assistance from the government under the Republican plan.

Take a 60-year-old in Piscataquis County, for example, which voted for Trump by the largest margin, who earns $30,000 a year. That individual would see federal aid drop nearly 60 percent, from $9,730 under Obamacare to $4,000 under the GOP proposal. Older residents there would have to earn more than $50,000 to see a net benefit from the Republican plan.

Compare that to a 27-year-old in Cumberland County, which went hardest for Clinton, who earns $30,000 a year. That person’s tax credit would rise from $1,470 to $2,000, a jump of 36 percent.

On average, tax credits would fall by $2,549, or 46 percent, in Maine, according a report by the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The disparities even out across Maine the more that residents earn, which could make the Republican proposal attractive to a key constituency: Trump voters who aren’t poor but still struggle to afford health insurance. They get nothing under Obamacare, but at least some relief from the feds under so-called RyanCare.

Our analysis combined a report from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, which projected tax credits in 2020 under Obamacare and the Republican alternative, with county-level election data.

Our findings track with similar analyses at the national level that found Trump voters would be among the biggest losers under the Republican plan.

It also lines up with what we know about the demographics of Trump voters, who are largely white, older, and living in areas with fewer immigrants. That describes Maine in general, but especially the more northern areas.

As the impacts of the Republican bill emerge, it’s been slow to win enthusiasm even among conservatives.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who serves the 2nd District, previously issued a statement expressing support for popular elements of the Affordable Care Act that are included in the House GOP plan, but he is aggressively not taking a stance on the proposal, based on Tuesday emails from his staff.

U.S. Sen Susan Collins has expressed concern about the bill, while U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree oppose it.

Rewarding longevity

Both Obamacare and the new Republican proposal, called the American Health Care Act, provide consumers with tax credits to buy a health plan. The credits help people who buy their own health insurance, rather than get coverage through work or government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.

But each calculates the assistance amounts differently.

Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, bases tax credits primarily on income, with poorer people getting more and wealthier Americans getting a smaller amount. It also takes into account age and the local cost of health insurance. The vast majority of the 77,000 Maine consumers with ACA plans, 85 percent, rely on these tax credits to afford their monthly premiums.

The Republican plan bases tax credits on how old you are, not how much you make. Everyone who makes less than $75,000 a year, or $150,000 for couples filing taxes jointly, would get the same amount of federal assistance according to the following age brackets:

— $2,000 for people under 30

— $2,500 for those between 30 and 40

— $3,000 for those between 40 and 50

— $3,500 for those between 50 and 60

— $4,000 for those over 60

People above that income level would see their credits phased out.

Penalizing infirmity

Even though older Americans get the most generous tax credit under the House Republican plan, here’s why they fare much better under Obamacare (at least as far as the federal leg up goes) in northern Maine. While age generally rises as you travel from south to north, household income generally drops, so older Mainers are typically poorer as well.

Obamacare’s accounting for income benefits them more, on the whole, than Ryancare’s accounting for age.

The GOP plan also includes another provision that experts predict will offset any tax credit advantage that older, richer Americans might get.

Older people are generally sicker and therefore cost insurers more money to cover. But the ACA allows insurers to charge older enrollees no more than three times as much as a younger person.

Under the Republican proposal, insurers would be permitted to charge them five times more.

In a relatively old state such as Maine, that could mean much higher premiums for many residents, though lower monthly costs for younger ones.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that insurance premiums would rise 15 percent to 20 percent in both 2018 and 2019 under the Republicans’ plan, because fewer healthy people would enroll following the repeal of Obamacare’s penalty for skipping insurance. But it expects those increases to be offset after 2020 by $100 billion the bill would award to states and by deregulation of the insurance market.

Sour and sweet spots

It goes without saying that you don’t have to be poor to struggle to afford health insurance. Under Obamacare, a fair number of people in that situation get no help from the federal government to pay their premiums. The tax credits dry up entirely if you earn more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $47,520 for an individual. It doesn’t matter how old you are.

(You also get nothing if you earn less than the poverty level, leaving tens of thousands of people with no insurance in states like Maine that didn’t expand Medicaid.)

As others have pointed out, if you’re someone who earns just a little too much to qualify for an Obamacare subsidy, the Republican plan could prove appealing. You go from getting nothing to at least something, even if you’re older and facing higher premiums that will eat up most or all of your tax credit.

Once your income goes north of $50,000 a year, the Ryan plan is universally better as far as the tax credits go. Every Mainer earning between that amount and $100,000 a year would fare better under the Republicans’ plan, regardless of age, the Kaiser data show.

That also happens to be the income group that was more likely to vote for Trump, according to national statistics.

BDN Maine reporter Darren Fishell contributed to this analysis and provided data visualizations.

 

Michael Thibodeau (from left), Sara Gideon and Gov. Paul LePage.

Here’s where the fight will get real on LePage’s budget

Here are some of the big pressure points and where legislative leaders are lining up before any grand bargain.

Published March 12, 2017, at 7:23 a.m.     |    

Here’s where the fight will get real on LePage’s budget

Posted March 12, 2017, at 7:23 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The parades of special interests through State House committee rooms to speak out about Gov. Paul LePage’s two-year budget proposal are over, with the onus shifting to a divided Legislature to hammer out a deal.

The last scheduled public hearing before the Legislature’s budget-writing committee on the Republican governor’s $6.8 billion proposal occurred Friday. Other committees will consider items in their subject areas before reporting back to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

It’s certain to lead to massive changes to LePage’s aggressive budget plan, which would shift Maine to a flat income tax by 2020 while neutering a voter-approved increase on high earners, overhaul the state’s K-12 education system and cut $140 million over baseline figures from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, among myriad changes big and small.

Here are some of the big pressure points and where legislative leaders are lining up before any grand bargain.

Republicans may be seeking a new tax tied to increasing education funding. LePage might even accept it. But Democrats could be an obstacle.

Maine voters created a new income surtax to benefit public schools by passing Question 2 on last year’s ballot, which placed a 3 percent surcharge on income over $200,000 to increase school funding by an estimated $157 million per year in an aim to get the state to fund education at or near 55 percent — a threshold set by voters in 2004 that Maine has never met.

LePage and Republicans already are intent on repealing or softening the impact of the new tax. But Democrats are holding to it for now, with House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, saying funding schools at less than 55 percent is a “dealbreaker” for Democrats.

“I’m really not in a position, quite honestly, where I’m approaching our budget negotiations ready to change that or give it away,” she said.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said support is building for implementing a sales tax on goods Mainers buy online and routing the proceeds to public schools.

“In order to find the necessary votes to pass this budget, we’ve got to honor the spirit of what that referendum was, which is that the people want additional resources for education,” he said Friday. “The controversial part isn’t the additional funding for education. There are folks on both sides of the aisle that recognize an income tax rate double what the state of Massachusetts has is just untenable.”

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, half agreed with Thibodeau and suggested that education doesn’t need an increase in funding past the $19 million increase proposed by LePage — it needs reform.

“For House Republicans, the focus is going to be holding the line on spending,” Fredette said, referring to education as well as the rest of the state budget. “The answer can’t be, ‘Let’s find another $150 million, and let’s throw it at education.’ Then you have another budget increase of $300 million in spending. That’s going to be a real challenge.”

The governor is a tax hawk, but he has long supported an online sales tax, which is supported by small retailers as a way to level the playing field between brick-and-mortar stores and massive online outfits such as Amazon, which collects sales taxes in 38 states but not Maine.

Such purchases already are subject to Maine’s use tax, but that’s easily avoided because reporting out-of-state purchases is effectively voluntary. It’s also unclear whether Maine could do it. LePage signed a law aiming to collect these taxes in 2013, but Amazon cut ties with affiliates here to avoid it, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said funding education at 55 percent would deliver property tax relief to Mainers, while the online sales tax may be “pie in the sky” and “something we’re not looking at at all.”

LePage’s welfare reform proposals are sure to trigger a political impasse.

This will be a continuation of a debate that has gone on for at least four years. Citing a need for smaller government, LePage’s administration has proposed eliminating Medicaid eligibility for non-disabled parents with income over 40 percent of the federal poverty level and lower lifetime caps on cash benefits for families.

But those changes would remove an estimated 18,000 Mainers from Medicaid and remove 1,500 children from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program on the heels of other cuts to those programs under LePage’s tenure.

Democrats have drawn a bright line on that, with Jackson saying he’s “floored by this type of mentality that we have to basically screw poor people so the wealthiest in our state can get more of their income taxes back.”

“The 90-pound gorilla in all of this is the health and human services budget,” Thibodeau said. “There will be a lot of give and take to find the sweet spot that garners two-thirds support, but I’m sure we can get there.”

Fredette said House Republicans agree with LePage that anyone they define as able-bodied should not receive welfare without significant hurdles in terms of work requirements and asset tests.

“The reason we’re not in a budget crisis today is because the governor and Republicans have been able to reform DHHS and really stop the bleeding over there,” Fredette said.

If the Legislature rejects too many of LePage’s welfare initiatives, it could cause the governor to veto the entire budget, as the issue has been one of his signature agenda items since he took office.

In addition to re-applying for some initiatives that have failed in the past, such as putting photos on cash benefits cards, LePage has inserted himself into the congressional debate about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Education and social services — and their billion-dollar price tags — will cause debate, but so will smaller-dollar issues that have been problems for years.

Among those issues is state funding for county jails, which has posed jurisdictional and financial problems for several years. At the core of the disagreement is whether the state, which has little or no oversight over county jails, should fund them at all.

“Everyone knows that the county jail system needs to be fixed,” Fredette said. “We can’t keep writing blank checks.”

Gideon said “we don’t have that solution defined at this point,” saying jails will require a “deep dive” by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to be discussed in the context of the budget.

Another area that could cause friction is funding for indigent legal services, which serves low-income Mainers. At the core of this debate is whether the state should continue to pay private practice attorneys an hourly rate or whether the state should develop a stable of public defenders. LePage favors the latter — and proposed doing so in 2015 — but so far the Legislature has not followed suit.

Come May and June, it could be deja vu all over again but with one difference — LePage is heading out of office.

It’s perhaps LePage’s last best chance at a legacy, and that seems to be on his mind. He has floated a 2018 run against independent U.S. Sen. Angus King over the past two years and his visits to Washington spurred rumors of a potential role in the Trump administration.

When asked about a Senate run on Thursday by WGAN, LePage said he hasn’t decided. But after a budget passes, he said, “I can start looking and then my wife and I will start talking about what we want to do when we grow up.”

“If they do not take the high taxes and the high energy costs in this state and take it seriously and realize that it’s killing our forest industry because of high need of energy, then there’s no reason why I want to spend the rest of my life in the state of Maine,” LePage said of the Legislature.

There is a lot of time for debate between now and then, but the issues that could hold up passage of the budget — and presumably raise the prospect of a government shutdown if an impasse lasts into late June — look today to center on tax reform, social service cuts and overall spending rates.

The last two state budgets were passed over a governor’s veto. Again, it could be a political fight with LePage and House Republicans on one side and Democrats and Senate Republicans on the other.

Whatever spending plan comes out of the debate will need two-thirds buy-in from both chambers, which is why some say this could be the most difficult budget battle in years, despite a state balance sheet that is decidedly in the black.

 

Ethan Evans works remotely from CoVort co-working space in Bangor on Friday for the Boston-based software development firm Appworks, supplementing a military career with the Maine National Guard and allowing him to buck a trend of the state losing its youngest workers in droves.

For younger workers, leaving Maine means higher incomes

From 2011 to 2015, Maine lost more than 1,800 workers younger than 26 and had a net loss of about 667 workers under the age of 65, according to IRS statistics.

Published March 12, 2017, at 7:23 a.m.     |    

For younger workers, leaving Maine means higher incomes

Posted March 12, 2017, at 7:23 a.m.
Last modified March 12, 2017, at 8:41 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Ethan Evans figured he would have to leave Maine for work before he got an offer he “couldn’t refuse.”

Evans works remotely from Bangor for Boston-based software development firm Appworks, supplementing his military career with the Maine National Guard and allowing him to buck a trend of the state losing its youngest workers in droves.

“I can go to Boston and get my fill of the city life, and then I can come home and sit in the woods,” said Evans, who noted a majority of his friends have left, mostly for Boston or Portland.

If it weren’t for the job offer from Appworks that lets him stay close to family, he said he’d probably be gone, too.

“It’s better for some people to go make double the money in Massachusetts and then come back later to settle here,” Evans said.

Evans’ story is an exception to the exodus of the state’s youngest workers. From 2011 to 2015, Maine lost more than 1,800 workers younger than 26 and had a net loss of about 667 workers under the age of 65, according to IRS statistics.

The figures highlight part of a population challenge that has held the attention of policymakers for decades, predicting the oldest state in the nation would continue to get older and the population would dwindle without attracting workers from other states and abroad.

One group, called Work in Place, started last year to promote location-independent working arrangements like Evans’ as another economic development strategy for the state.

As for attracting new workers in their prime, between 26 and 55, the data reveal where that may be a challenge based on earnings.

For example, income barely grew for filers between 35 and 44 who came to the state between 2012 and 2014. It picked up in 2015, when people 26 to 34 who moved into Maine saw income grow more slowly than people who moved out of state.

But despite the departure of the state’s youngest workers, a separate set of migration data show that Maine has had net gains in population from 22 states between 2011 and 2015, with the largest gains from other states in the Northeast.

Maine lost people to warmer climates and larger states, including Texas, California and, most of all, Florida.

Both data sets show how broad groups are moving and how overall income has changed but have limitations as measures of total migration or movement of wealth.

For one, the data only cover income tax filers. Within that, they may drop some filings where the same filer can’t be tracked from one year to the next. That can differ from other measures of migration, particularly with foreign migration.

The IRS data show a net loss of about 300 people to foreign countries from 2011 to 2015. Census figures estimate the state gained more than 7,000 residents from foreign migration during that time while losing about 4,100 to other states.

What’s clear from the data is that whether moving or not incomes of the highest earners have been growing at the fastest rates. In the $200,000 or more income bracket, collective income for filers who moved and those who didn’t in 2015 rose by at least 20 percent.

That’s compared with growth ranging from 1 percent to 9 percent across groups of filers making from $10,000 to $200,000 per year.

BDN visuals editor Micky Bedell contributed to this report.