Editor’s note: This report is compiled weekly for members of the Portland Regional Chamber. It provides a breakdown of recent news around state policy, as well as a heads-up on coming events. The Bangor Daily News is publishing this report in cooperation with the PRC.
Last week, LD 90, the bipartisan bill designed to ease workforce skills gap problems, received final approval in the House and the Senate. But because it carries a $5 million dollar price tag, it found its way to the Appropriations Table ( PPH).
The Appropriations Table is the place where bills either go to get funded at the end of the session or die. The PPH editors urged funding, and we do too.
Earlier this year, the Portland Regional Chamber joined many other business and trade groups in testifying in support of LD 90. We continue to support the legislation because it will directly strengthen our region’s economy.
The bill contains a number of notable accomplishments, including provisions that refocus workforce training dollars on the needs of employers with jobs to fill, as well as providing urgently needed funding to the University of Maine system and the Community College system. This way, both can eliminate bottlenecks where students currently wait for the classes they need to take to gain access to available jobs today.
Lawmakers are struggling with a state budget deficit that asks for cuts no one wants, like municipal revenue sharing or tax increases that too many cannot afford. Recently we heard from one legislator at our last Advocacy Committee meeting who said that the only real way out of our recurring state budget crisis was economic growth.
Well, LD 90 is not the whole answer, but it’s one way to make state resources do a better job of connecting education to employment. And more jobs are just what our region, and the entire state, need right now.
So despite the difficulties facing the state budget we’re urging lawmakers to find the funding needed to make LD 90 a true bipartisan success story of the 126th legislature, and even better, a jobs bill for our region and the entire state.
Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:
Federal immigration reform has many moving parts, one of which is an effort to increase the number of H-1B visas available to highly skilled foreign workers. James T. Brett and Michael E. Dubyak wrote to explain why Maine businesses need immigration reform to help close the skills gap, especially in STEM-related occupations.
Spotlight Legislation: Last week, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee created a bipartisan Energy Omnibus Bill that combined a number of good ideas for lowering Maine’s energy costs. The bill was passed in Committee 12-1 ( PPH, LSJ), but the Governor said he wants changes before he’ll sign on ( BDN).
Andrew Sturgeon explained why the bill deserves support, Mike Cuzzi praised the bipartisan work, and Tux Turkel in the PPH took a detailed look at the issues surrounding Maine’s conversion to natural gas.
In the State House: Distractions included a feud over a TV outside the Governor’s office, including whether he’d keep his office at the state house ( PPH, BDN, LSJ, MPBN, BDN editors), and a declaration that the administration would only testify via the Governor himself ( PPH).
State Policy round-up: As the session heads to the finish line in June (maybe), many significant issues remain in play:
— Budget: A week ago Sunday, the Appropriations Committee met to discuss late-discovered shortfalls in the Maine DHHS budget. News coverage centered on the Governor’s effort to address the Committee, rebuffed by Sen. Dawn Hill ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). The real news involved why the DHHS budget is so often in trouble, something Matthew Stone examined in the BDN, and the BDN editors urged a solution.
— Economic Development: Professor Charles Colgan estimated that Maine would not fully recover the jobs lost in the recession until 2016 ( LSJ). Newest U.S Census data showed Maine’s population remaining essentially flat ( LSJ).
— Education: The Governor’s late-session education reform agenda hit a wall in committee late last week ( BDN). Teacher evaluation rules had a hearing where most opposed them ( PPH) – later in the week the Education Committee split three ways on the rules, virtually guaranteeing that they will not advance this year. Sen. Troy Jackson and Rep. Ken Fredette exchanged views on school reform.
— MPBN did a two part series on school grades ( part 1, part 2), the Democrats pressed their alternative school grades proposal ( BDN), while F. Philip Handy and T. Willard Fair wrote to defend grading schools and David Lentini wrote to oppose them. The BDN editors asked for more success for charter schools before adding more.
— Health Care: Democrats in the state house passed a bill linking hospital repayment to Medicaid expansion in Maine ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) – as promised the Governor promptly vetoed it ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). The Senate will vote Tuesday on an override. The PPH editors urged an override vote, as did the LSJ editors and the BDN editors. Comment came from Speaker Eves and President Alfond, Bill Nemitz and Mike Tipping in support, and from House Minority Leader Ken Fredette and Martin Jones in opposition.
— The Muskie School of Public Service held two health policy colloquia during April, featuring some excellent discussion among national health experts and state-wide health leaders. You can listen to a discussion of Vermont’s reform experience ( MPBN), and a discussion of Maine’s options under federal reform ( MPBN).
— Small Business: The 3rd annual “Top Gun” competition kicked off last week ( BDN).
— Tax: The Governor set a second term goal of eliminating Maine’s income tax ( PPH, BDN, LSJ). The “Gang of 11” tax reform plan (summary in LSJ) continued to generate defense from its author ( MPBN) and comment in support from Charles Lawton and Matthew Bucklin. Ron Lebel offered ideas for improving the bill. Lawton also explained why broad tax reform is so hard to pass.
— Governor LePage rejected a tobacco tax increase ( BDN), and support for a “Buffet Rule” tax proposal came from Rep. Paul Gilbert and Rep. Walter Kumiega. Michael Havlin wrote against tax increment financing.
— Transportation: Declining gas tax revenues are putting more pressure on state transportation budgets ( PPH).
Around the Region: There are so many world-class employers in our region – Karen Vachon in the PDS profiled one, the Maine Medical Center Research Institute.
— In Cape Elizabeth, the Town’s Conservation Commission will hold public forums on the greenbelt plan on May 30th and June 11th ( Forecaster).
— In Portland, a study group deadlocked 6-6 on a new plan for redeveloping Congress Square Plaza and incorporating a portion of it into the Eastland renovation ( PPH, PDS, BDN). The project will get a public hearing this Wednesday, May 29, and we’re urging folks to join us speaking in favor of the redevelopment plan. Elsewhere:
— The increasing problem of panhandling was featured by Randy Billings in the PPH.
— City staff are working on refinements to the City’s food truck ordinance ( BDN).
— For the latest, check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.
— In South Portland, the Council sent a revised school budget to voters for referendum on June 11th ( Forecaster).
— In Scarborough, the School Board looked for cuts ( Current) as it prepares to send a modified school budget to the Council, who will send the budget back to voters ( Forecaster, Current). More on the potential of a planned development at Dunstan Corner ( Forecaster).
— In Westbrook, don’t miss Together Days’ this coming Friday and Saturday, brought to you by the Westbrook-Gorham Community Chamber ( Current).
Contact your local officials: Visit our website to find links to all your municipal and state house officials. Remember – if you don’t speak out, the people who represent you have no way to know what you think. So keep those email, calls and visits coming.
Digging Deeper at the State House: Most of you probably don’t want to find daily schedules at the state house, research copies of every piece of testimony submitted at every public hearing, track the status of a particular bill, find contact info for Committees, or House members, or Senators, or listen to public hearings on the computer, or watch selected state house proceedings on MPBN’s Capitol Connection. But if you do, just follow the links. The state house is increasingly accessible to the public, at least to those who put in a little work.
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Feedback: What do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email to share your feedback with me – and thank you!
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