LePage Presents Priorities at Biddeford Town Hall Forum

On Wednesday, January 25, Governor Paul LePage hosted a town hall meeting in Biddeford, his first since before the election, to promote understanding and support for his key policy agenda items. At the meeting, the Governor presented his priority issues, many of which are the centerpiece of his proposed budget that he released earlier this month.The Governor addressed his concerns about Maine’s energy costs, and some of the related initiatives in his budget.

More specifically, the Governor discussed whether the minimum wage increase and the 3% tax surcharge might impact the decision for both fixed income consumers and high-income earners to remain in or move to Maine. His budget contains initiatives that would seek to modify the recently-passed laws, such as lowering the income tax rate to offset the surcharge, and restoring the tip credit to allow tipped workers to receive less than the minimum wage. Roughly 150 people attended the event, which was held at Biddeford Middle School.

Proponents of Medicaid Expansion Submit Signatures for Ballot Question

Proponents of expanding Medicaid submitted over 66,000 petition signatures to the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday, January 25. If the signatures are certified, the question of whether to expand Medicaid in Maine would go on a statewide ballot, likely in the fall. Under the Affordable Care Act, states can choose to expand their Medicaid programs. The Maine State Legislature has previously taken up the expansion issue six times but failed to secure the votes necessary to override Governor LePage’s vetoes.

Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee Hears Bills on Lowering Cost of Higher Education and Increasing Number of Degrees

This week, the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee held public hearings on two bills aimed at improving the experience of higher education in Maine. L.D. 32 “An Act to Increase the Size of Grants under the Maine State Grant Program,” and L.D. 43 “Resolve, To Establish the Task Force to Study Higher Education Attainment and Completion Goals.” L.D. 32 would double the grants from $1000 to $2000 for Maine’s need-based post-secondary students, while L.D. 43 would establish post-secondary education degree completion goals and an associated measurement system. Sen. Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, the sponsor of both bills, said she hopes that these bills will help more students graduate and build Maine’s workforce capacity.

Maine’s Attorney General Says Governor Needs Legislative Approval to Build Psychiatric Hospital

Attorney General Janet Mills, in a letter to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, argued that Governor LePage would be unable to move forward with plans to build a psychiatric hospital in Bangor without legislative approval. The letter adds another layer to the debate about where, if not whether, the psychiatric facility will be built. The Governor originally sought to have the facility constructed in Augusta, but the plan was not approved by the Legislature. The Attorney General's letter asserts that, although the proposed location is state-owned land, there is no statutory authority for the Department of Health and Human Services to construct the facility without legislative approval. The Governor has been a strong supporter of building the facility, and he is likely to continue to push for it.

Annual MEREDA Forecast Conference Highlights Growth in Residential Development, Workforce Issues

The annual Maine Real Estate and Development Association’s (MEREDA) Forecast Conference and Member Showcase took place at the Holiday Inn by the Bay on January 19, 2017. At the conference, which drew over 700 attendees, the MEREDA Index was unveiled, indicating an upswing in Maine’s development and real estate market trends. This year’s MEREDA Index was 93, the highest it’s been since 2006. The Index shows that there’s been a lot of activity in the residential construction market. However, it also showed that there is a workforce problem in this sector in Maine, making it difficult for the market to reach its full potential. The annual MEREDA Forecast Conference is a signature event in the development and real estate communities.