For all you policy wonks out there, here’s a dandy summary of this week’s work on the Governor’s proposed budget by our Legislature. Thanks to the Maine Budget Blog you can find testimony and audio from all hearings and the work sessions as well as links to annotated copies of the supplemental budget bills. These contain detail of the votes taken in committee. Have fun!
We’re happy to report that Governor LePage has appointed Democrat Carolyn Bird of Bath to the position of Sagadahoc Register of Probate. She will complete Joan Atwood’s unexpired term and will take office in one week.
Carolyn received her BA from the University of Chicago, and her law degree from Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. She is a member of the Maine Bar and has practiced law in Illinois, Connecticut and most recently in Bath and Brunswick.
Investments in Maine students and workers play second fiddle to tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations in Governor Paul LePage’s proposed $6.5 million state budget.
Lawmakers heard strong concerns from students, teachers, and experts about the lack of investment in public higher education on Monday morning during a joint hearing of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs and Education and Cultural Affairs committees.
“State investments in our public higher education facilities is vital to improving our economy. It is key to creating more jobs and better wages for our students and our workers,” said Rep. Tori Kornfield of Bangor, the House Chair of the Education committee. “Instead the Governor is prioritizing tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations over much-needed investment in education. We need to attract and keep young students in Maine, and we can do that by investing in education.”
Governor LePage’s budget flat funds the state’s community colleges and provides the state’s university system with only half of its requested expenditures, while slashing the corporate income tax rate by nearly $60 million over the next four years.
“Investing in higher education is a top priority for building a skilled and prepared workforce, growing our economy toward prosperity, and to strengthening our future,” said Senator Linda Valentino of Saco, who serves on the Appropriations Committee. “There’s never justification for giving tax breaks to big corporations ahead of helping Maine students and Maine people find their way to college and degree attainment.”
During the hearing, Interim Maine Community College System President Derek Langhauser told lawmakers the system will have to find up to $10 million in cuts over the next two years or raise tuition to cover cost increases.
“Our goal must be to make college more affordable, especially at our community colleges which provide such a bang for the buck for both students and workers,” said Rep. Matthea Daughtry of Brunswick, who chaired the Legislature’s College Affordability Task Force and serves on the Education committee.
Jason Glyan, a former community college student, told lawmakers the community college system changed his life, allowing him to go back to school and get the training he needed to get a good-paying job. He called the community college system “the great bargain of higher education.”
“We heard powerful personal testimony from students, workers, and education officials. The message was clear: don’t shortchange education,” said Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, who serves on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. “Unfortunately Maine is providing the same grant amount to students today that it did back in 1994 and we know our dollars don’t stretch as far as they did 20 years ago.”
Be sure to check out the latest newsletter from our U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree. She has a great update on ACA’s success in Maine, plus the latest on the Republicans’ threat to shutdown Homeland Security, including a link to the speech she gave on the House floor urging members to end this manufactured crisis. Here’s the link to her newsletter.
House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick on Wednesday called for bipartisan action on his “Keep ME Home” bond to invest $65 million to build affordable housing for Maine seniors. The call to action comes as a new study shows a dire shortfall in affordable rental homes for low income older people throughout the state.
According to the new report, which was commissioned by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition and undertaken by Abt Associates, Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older people, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem. It also found that Maine has the oldest population and the 8th oldest housing stock in the nation.
Eves has proposed the bond to create 1,000 units of energy-efficient affordable housing for seniors in all 16 counties of the state as part of his “KeepME Home” plan to help seniors live independently in their homes and communities.
“Maine seniors deserve bipartisan action from lawmakers. The Keep ME Home bond will address a dire need for affordable senior housing across our state,” said Eves. “Maine seniors want to live independently longer and they want a more secure retirement. They don’t want to be forced into nursing homes but they also are having trouble maintaining their homes, keeping up with rising property taxes, and the high cost of heating oil.”
Eves added, “The Keep ME Home bond is a win for seniors. But it is also a win for our economy, which has lagged behind the nation in the recovery from the recession. We face a jobs gap and a wage gap. The KeepME Home bond will help create good housing and construction jobs in every county in the state. The bond would create or sustain at least two-thousand good paying jobs. It would result in an additional construction investment of more than eighty million dollars statewide. It will invest in our local economies and our seniors. It’s a win win.”
Report from the Portland Press Herald on Maine Municipal Association’s informal meeting with legislators on LePage’s proposed elimination of revenue sharing: “At stake for the average Mainer in the discussions is the size of their property tax bills. Cities and towns would lose $155 million in revenue under LePage’s budget, and unless they cut spending on schools, snowplowing, public safety or other services, the only alternative for communities to replace the lost state revenue would be to increase property taxes on homes and businesses.” Click here to read the entire article.
MPBN reports that Maine non-profits “collectively employ nearly nearly 85,000 Maine residents who are paid more than $3.6 billion in wages. But their bottom lines could look a whole lot different in the future if Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to require municipalities to start taxing them is approved.” Click here to read the article and listen to the report.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows has released a new web video highlighting Susan Collins’ multiple votes in favor of the 16-day 2013 government shutdown. A recent Collins ad on the shutdown omits her vote record, ignores the shutdown’s impact on Maine’s economy and glosses over her role in creating the problem she claims to have helped solve.
You can watch the full video at http://bit.ly/1v8OS2I.
Collins voted on Sept. 30, 2013, and again Oct. 1, 2013, in favor of a House Republican demand to defund the Affordable Care Act as the price of continuing government operations. The Democratic Senate majority refused to give in, and the House majority decided not to pass a full government funding resolution in response. Collins voted with the rest of the Republican caucus and against Sen. Angus King both times.
Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz noted at the time, “Along with every other Republican senator, Collins voted against stripping the Obamacare provisions out of the bill. Later Monday evening, with the government shutdown only hours away, the House sent the resolution back with a new set of Obamacare conditions attached. Same result: Collins, who was already on record calling it flawed strategy that endangered the entire U.S. economy, fell in line and once again voted to keep those conditions intact.”
As CNN wrote at the time, according to a contemporary poll, “68% of Americans think shutting down the government for even a few days is a bad idea, while 27% think it’s a good idea. And it appears most Americans would blame congressional Republicans for a shutdown: Sixty-nine percent said they agreed with the statement that the party’s elected officials were acting like ‘spoiled children.'”
None of this legislative or political history is included in Collins’ ad, following her campaign’s pattern of selectively representing her record. Collins, who recently aired a veterans-themed ad, still has yet to explain why she voted in February to block veteran pay and benefits package supported by more than two dozen veterans groups. The American Legion called that vote “inexcusable.”
The script of Bellows’ new video is available below.
“Susan Collins has a new ad about her role in last year’s government shutdown. What Collins isn’t telling you is that she voted to shut down the government in the first place. Why isn’t Collins taking credit for that? The government shutdown cost Maine millions: lost tourism, fewer services, big setbacks for small businesses and major problems for our schools. Now, instead of leveling with voters, Collins is trying to claim credit for solving a problem she helped create. But like the shutdown’s impacts on Maine, her record doesn’t just disappear when she wants it to. So, to recap. . . Susan Collins voted to shut down the federal government. Twice. Susan Collins hopes you’ll forget her votes, because she can’t defend them.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the frontrunner in the race to be Maine’s next governor, outlined his vision for improving health care today during a press conference in Portland.
“When we think about health care, our focus often begins when a person shows up in the emergency room or at a doctor’s office. And it typically ends when they are sent home,” Michaud said. “We talk about cost drivers, procedures and outcomes. But reforming our health care system requires us to take a broader view that puts the individual at the center of our efforts.”
In his comprehensive 10-point plan, Michaud proposes practical steps for improving the health of Mainers, reducing costs for small businesses, fighting substance abuse and addiction, and promoting innovation in health care delivery and payment.
“We need to think about people not as a collection of ailments, to be treated as cheaply as possible, but as members of our community who want to be healthy, live independently and be treated with respect at all stages of their lives,” Michaud said.
The reforms also emphasize the importance of protecting taxpayer dollars, cleaning up a dysfunctional Department of Health and Human Services, which has been mismanaged by Gov. Paul LePage and his administration, and addressing Maine’s growing opiate addiction epidemic.
The complete plan can be found here: www.michaud2014.com/healthcare.
Our own State Senator, Eloise Vitelli, gave this week’s Democratic Radio Address. Don’t miss her great message on the importance of early childhood education below.
Good Morning. This is State Senator Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic.
The official start of the school year is upon us. And for hundreds of four year olds across Maine, this was their first year of school, as pre-Kindergarteners.
Unfortunately, not every child in Maine had the opportunity to enroll in a pre-K program.
Currently, fewer than one-third of our four-year olds are enrolled in a public school program. That leaves too many four year olds missing out on an opportunity to get a head start on their learning.
To help level the playing field, the legislature, earlier this year, passed a new law that expands pre-K opportunities so that more Maine children will have access to an early childhood education in their own school district.
Why is this important?
Well, as a former pre-school teacher, I saw first-hand how early learning experience provides the building blocks for future learning.
What we learn early in our lives contributes directly to our abilities as adults; shapes our opportunities; and influences our later success.
I’m not alone in that thinking. Folks from law enforcement to the business community, to teachers and economists, understand that investing in strong public, early education will bring social and economic benefits and should be a priority.
According to a 2011 report by America’s Edge , every $1 invested in early education in Maine generates nearly double in economic activity. To put that in perspective, that’s a greater rate of return than other economic investments we currently make.
As Dana Connors, President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce said, “Investment in early childhood [education] is real economic development. It is not just a social and moral imperative; it is an economic imperative.”
Some may ask what can government do?
The greatest role government can play is to make sure all of our people have the tools and skills needed to be productive. Economists like to call this an investment in “human capital.”
Investing in our people, in human capital, is precisely what is needed and what Maine people expect.
For the last four years, Maine has had the second worst personal income growth record in the nation—meaning our people are having to work harder, for less. In contrast, if you look at which states are doing well, it’s the ones with a well-educated workforce.
Maine’s economy is lagging behind in other areas too. While the rest of the country has recovered all of the jobs lost from the Great Recession—and even gained some new ones, Maine has barely recovered half of the jobs lost. And, many of the jobs we did gain are part-time jobs. Maine is among the five worst states in offering only part-time work for people who would rather work full time.
The policies of the past four years have not helped our economy. Evidence continues to mount that Governor LePage’s policies and priorities are not what Mainers need or can afford.
We need leaders who understand the value of building our skilled workforce, starting with our youngest and continuing to those who need new skills to meet the needs of a changing economy.
Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic. Have a great weekend.
Maine lawmakers are united behind efforts to help seniors age in their homes and communities, according Speaker of the Maine House Mark Eves, Democrat of North Berwick.
Eves held meetings today in Washington with Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, who expressed support for his effort to help Maine seniors age in place and live independently longer.
“Maine seniors have strong advocates in Congress,” said Eves. “Together, we can transform how seniors age in our state and make Maine a national leader on aging.”
Maine is the oldest state in the nation. One in four Mainers will be over the age of 65 by 2030, according to U.S. census projections.
During the meetings, Eves briefed the state’s four Congressional members on his “KeepME Home” plan, which would create affordable housing for seniors in each of Maine’s 16 counties through a $65 million housing bond; boost pay for in-home care workers who have not had a raise in nearly a decade; and expand property tax credits for seniors.
“Speaker Eves is right to shine a spotlight on the need to create a supportive infrastructure for our seniors. Investing in our seniors is the right thing to do. And his plan also offers the potential for positive economic growth in our state as we make good on our promise to seniors,” said Congressman Mike Michaud, who has been working to expand health care benefits for low income seniors as a founding member of the State Medicaid Expansion Caucus.
Sens. Collins and King both discussed their co-sponsorship of a measure, S.1442, to increase affordable housing tax credits for low income seniors.
Rep. Chelle Pingree, who has advocated for housing assistance and innovative new transportation programs for seniors, also said Maine has an opportunity to lead on aging issues.
“The ideas I heard today really can make Maine a leader in helping seniors stay in their homes and communities,” said Pingree. “I know all of us in the Congressional delegation want to find ways to support these proposals from a federal perspective, but I’m also excited about sharing the ideas with my colleagues from around the country. Although Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country, finding ways to help seniors stay in their homes is a challenge in every community across the country.”
State experts on aging in Maine also joined Eves, including Jess Maurer from the Maine Council on Aging, Jeff Hecker from the University of Maine at Orono, and Steve Pound from Cianbro, who heads up workforce development efforts for the company.
The KeepME Home plan is part of a culmination of nearly a year of work collaborating with aging experts, caregivers, municipal, and business leaders. The proposals will serve as key pieces of a larger package of legislation on aging in the 127th Legislature, which convenes in December.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows welcomed the support of Veterans’ Vision, the Alliance for Retired Americans, the Maine People’s Alliance and People for the American Way the day after concluding her 350-mile, 24-day Walk Across Maine for Jobs and the Economy.
Bellows has attracted endorsements from a broad array of labor, women’s, social justice and progressive organizations. Today‘s newly announced support brings her total to more than 30 endorsing organizations and individuals. You can view the full list at http://bellowsforsenate.com/endorsements.
“I’m proud to have earned the support of such a diverse, forward-looking group of organizations from around Maine and across the country,” Bellows said. “On my 350-mile walk across the state, I met Mainers from all walks of life who feel their needs aren’t being met by the status quo. I am determined to be a strong voice in Washington for working families, our seniors and our veterans to ensure a better future for our state and our country.”
“Shenna Bellows is committed to veterans, and she is committed to the people of Maine. She acknowledges that reform is needed in the VA’s procurement and medical billing services, and she supports reducing the VA disability claim backlog and wait time from the 273 days it currently takes for veterans to hear back. Shenna Bellows understands the challenges facing our veterans, and was quick to offer her support in addressing them. Because of her strong support for those who have served, The VETERANS’ VISION is proud to endorse her for the United States Senate,” said Benjamin Peoples, Political Editor at The VETERANS’ VISION.
“MPA members have worked hand in hand with Shenna on campaigns for marriage equality and voting rights, and we know she has our back on vital issues like the minimum wage and retirement security. That’s why we’ve endorsed her for the United States Senate,” said Jesse Graham, Executive Director of the Maine People’s Alliance.
“Seniors can count on Shenna Bellows to strengthen and expand Social Security,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “She will ensure that both Medicare and Social Security continue to offer guaranteed benefits for current and future generations, in Maine and across the country.”
“Shenna Bellows is the kind of progressive leader Mainers want to represent them in Washington,” said PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager. “She’ll fight for equality for all, against big money in political campaigns, and for full civil rights and voting rights for all Americans. PFAW is proud to endorse her candidacy for U.S. Senate.”