May 28, 2018
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The wrap-up: Biz-friendly communities, WorkShare, charter schools and more

Matt Wickenheiser | BDN
Matt Wickenheiser | BDN
Chris Hall, senior vice president for government relations, Portland Regional Chamber
By Chris Hall, Portland Regional Chamber

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

PRC speaks out

As we head into the summer here are a few things you might have missed in the last two weeks:

Congratulations to everyone who won a primary on Tuesday – all the election results from across the state can be found on this BDN webpage. For local election results check your municipality’s website. Statewide voter turnout was less than 15 percent, so if you voted congratulations to you, too (the PPH editors commented on the low turnout).

Congratulations are also in order to the nine municipalities who won recognition from the governor as “Certified Business Friendly” – here’s the DECD press release, coverage in the PPH, Current, KJ and BDN, and comment from Bill Nemitz.

Condolences to the 10 communities that were found wanting, including the four towns in our region whose applications were rejected. At the Portland Regional Chamber we believe all four of our towns are just as business friendly as any other community in the state.

For readers who live or work in Portland, please don’t miss Chris O’Neil’s detailed and thoughtful reporting in his latest Inside City Hall on proposed storm water fee increases facing the city’s businesses and residents. Take a moment to understand what the new fees may mean to you, and if you have feedback just send Chris O’Neil an email.

Finally congratulations to the Maine Department of Labor for their new WorkShare program, a concept first introduced in 2011 by Portland legislator Diane Russell.

Employers take note – partial unemployment benefits are now available in Maine. In some cases layoffs may be avoidable with the new flexible unemployment insurance benefit structure – a win for workers and companies alike.

Learn more about WorkShare by reading the recent Department of Labor press release announcing the program, visiting the agency’s dedicated website, and reading these reports on the program in the BDN and on MPBN.

State Policy round-up: Views on the last legislative session continued to roll in: Maine DECD Commissioner George Gervais highlighted the many positive steps toward job growth taken by lawmakers, Matt Wickenheiser at the BDN interviewed business and labor leaders to get their (very different) views on the Legislature’s accomplishments, and the BDN editors made a list of what went right in the 125th Legislature.

Matt Stone at the BDN looked at ‘paper candidates’ – candidates who will drop out before the election – and the first one surfaced yesterday ( BDN, KJ). The PPH and BDN editors had some frank political advice for the minority party in Maine. Elsewhere:

Bonds: The governor reiterated that he does not intend to sign the paperwork for any bonds until 2014, either ones already approved by Maine voters, or ones that may be approved this November. Read his letter to affected state agencies, and coverage in the PPH and BDN. The BDN editors commented.

Fallout from the vetoed $20 million dollar R&D bond included comment from Greg Kesich, David Farmer, Amy Fried, and Messrs. Strimling & Harriman. The BDN provided a roll call analysis.

Ballot watch: A group opposed to private funding of elections issued a report on PAC spending in Maine ( BDN, PPH, MW, MPBN) – the LSJ editors commented. The PPH editors called for open primaries. Maine’s Ethics Commission is looking at who’s a journalist, and who’s not, for the purposes of campaign finance reporting ( BDN).

Economic Development: In 2011 Maine’s GDP shrunk, placing us 46th nationally in economic growth (ours was technically negative growth) – Mal Leary reported on the details in the BDN. To get things going again John Butera wrote about a series of workshops the governor is hosting for employers this summer. Charles Lawton wrote about the importance of manufacturing to Maine, as did Randy Billings in MaineBiz. Rocco Landesman, head of the National Endowment for the Arts, visited Maine to promote the economic benefits of the arts ( MPBN).

Education: Peter Gore and John Rohman wrote about the benefits of early childhood education. Ron Bancroft wrote about 4th grade reading scores, and the challenges they represent. The PPH editors wrote to support the ‘bridge year’ concept – something Hermon’s high school is implementing now ( BDN). The BDN editors wrote about the legislature’s override of the Governor’s veto of LD 1781 (providing salary incentives for nationally certified teachers). Schools in Gray are two years ahead of state education reforms, and gaining ground ( BDN). This week Commissioner Bowen restated his reform goals for teachers in training ( BDN).

Energy: The Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code is ready to go into effect in 34 more Maine communities next month ( PPH).

Environment: For a comprehensive collection of environmentally oriented news, commentary and analysis check out Maine Environmental News.

Health Care: The Wall Street Journal’s editors praised Maine’s 2011 state level health care reforms, drawing a rebuke from the BDN editors, who in turn received a critical response from Joel Allumbaugh. Earlier this year State House Republican leaders put off action on a state health care exchange – the PPH’s Eric Russell looked at the possible consequences of that delay. MPBN looked at the pending need for federal waivers before recent MaineCare budget cuts can go into effect.

Labor: The PPH’s Steve Mistler examined the chances of Wisconsin Governor Walker’s victory leading to state house action in Maine against public sector unions.

Maine State Housing Authority: Comment continued to roll in on the Maine State Housing Authority’s leadership change: State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, the BDN editors, and Lance Dutson (responding to Bill Nemitz) all had more to say. MSHA Chairman Peter Anastos went before lawmakers to say that there had been ‘no witch hunt.’ ( PPH, BDN, MPBN).

Real Estate: The Dunham Group’s recent Greater Portland Industrial Market Survey is worth a look even if you’re not in the real estate business – the report has lots of interesting and important information about the southern Maine economy.

Small Business: Charles Lawton took a look at the Thumbtack business survey – a different way to assess state and community small business friendliness.

Tax: Support for a federal Internet sales tax was voiced by Congresswoman Pingree and Governor LePage ( PPH, MPBN) – the PPH editors commented on the rare conjunction. Doug Rooks commented on state budget cuts and tax reductions. Lindsay Tice at the LSJ re-visited the tricky world of state sales tax on snack food items.

Transportation: The Maine Turnpike Authority proposed a large toll increase ( PPH, BDN, Forecaster) – comment from the editors of the PPH and LSJ. The PPH’s Colin Woodard looked at Quebec’s attitude toward the proposed east/west highway, while MPBN detailed the supporters’ case.

Around the Region: Col. David Sutherland’s presentation at Eggs & Issues moved many people in the audience to greater efforts in support of returning veterans ( BDN, MPBN). Col. Sutherland was interviewed on WGAN. For more information about the Portland Regional Chamber’s Portland Veterans Network click the link.

Cape Elizabeth & South Portland: In Cape Elizabeth the Planning Board will look at issues surrounding residential short term rental regulations on Tuesday ( Forecaster). Voters approved the school budget at Tuesday’s election ( Forecaster).

In South Portland additional savings were realized on the bonds supporting the High School renovation ( Forecaster). A final hearing on proposed changes to the City’s Comprehensive Plan will be held next Tuesday ( Forecaster).

Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland new road acceptance rules have been adopted by the Council ( Forecaster). SAD 51’s budget was approved, and new school board members were elected ( Forecaster).

In Falmouth new water view overlay zoning won Council approval ( Forecaster). A petition to end bus service to Falmouth is being circulated, and is raising concerns ( Forecaster). Sean Mahoney and Karen Farber won election to the Council ( Forecaster).

Portland: A recent workshop on proposed new storm water fees showed how complex the issue will become ( PDS, Forecaster). Click on Inside City Hall for Chris O’Neil’s analysis and explanation of how to get involved. Elsewhere:

  1. New election timing for Portland’s at-large council seats was proposed ( Forecaster, PDS);
  1. The Thompson’s Point project received Planning Board approvals ( PPH);
  1. A new ‘home port’ strategy for provisioning visiting cruise ships was tested ( BDN, PDS);
  1. The Baxter Academy, Portland’s first Charter School, is taking applications for classes starting this fall ( BDN) – a public hearing on the Academy’s application to become a charter school will be held Monday ( Forecaster) ;
  1. Matt Wickenheiser wrote about Portland’s brewing clusters in the BDN (yes there are two!);
  1. Greg Kesich explored Creative Portland’s push for 10,000 new Portlanders in 10 years;
  1. A recent study documented the economic impacts of Portland’s arts community ( PPH); and
  1. For the latest check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.

Scarborough: The Council approved zoning changes for the Haigis Parkway to facilitate additional growth ( Forecaster). Some residents voiced concern over an Oak Hill development proposal ( Current.)

Westbrook and Gorham: In Westbrook plans are moving ahead for a new waste transfer facility ( PPH, Current). The school budget won voter approval ( Current).

In Gorham the Council gave approval to the school budget ( PPH, Current), as did voters ( Current). Officials are exploring public bus service through USM’s bus fleet ( PPH).

Want to speak out? It’s easy to do, and believe it or not, it can really work. Notice that all the legislative committees mentioned above are linked – just click on them and you’ll get emails, phone numbers and everything you need to make your voice heard in the state house. If you need help, just email me!

Feedback: So what do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or on other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email if you’d like to share your feedback with me – and thank you!

Chris Hall is senior vice president for government relations at the Portland Regional Chamber. He can be contacted at Partners for Progress Policy Updates are supported by contributions from Partners for Progress.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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