Clean Election Funding for Gubernatorial Candidates Being Challenged

Maine’s Clean Election Act, enacted by referendum in 1996, limits special interest money in Maine elections for state office by allowing candidates to receive public funding for their campaigns if they elect not to accept private donations. This week, the Legislature began considering a bill that would remove gubernatorial candidates from eligibility for the public funding option. Governor LePage supports this proposal, noting that using taxpayer dollars for gubernatorial races is not a good use of taxpayer money. Opponents note that Maine voters have spoken on this issue by approving the Maine Clean Election Act at the statewide ballot box in 1996, and again in 2015 when voters approved an increase in the levels of funding available under the Act.

Maine Education Commissioner May be Posted

Governor LePage has indicated his intent to nominate Acting Education Commissioner Robert Hasson to the permanent position of Commissioner of Education. Maine has been without a permanent Education Commissioner since 2014, and Mr. Hasson has been the Acting Commissioner since December 2016.

Reports are that he will be interviewed by the State Board of Education, and then we may expect his nomination to be submitted to the Legislature, which would trigger a public hearing before the Legislature’s Education Committee, followed by a Senate confirmation vote. Mr. Hasson brings to this role a long history of education leadership, having served as a long-term superintendent of MSAD 51 in Cumberland and North Yarmouth, and more recently in leadership positions with the Maine School Superintendents and Maine School Management associations.

Mainers May See Medicaid Expansion Question on November Ballot

A new effort is underway to expand Medicaid coverage in Maine under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite the uncertain future of the ACA under the new Congress and president. Maine’s secretary of state certified more than 66,000 signatures on a citizen’s initiated petition this week, which puts this legislation before the Legislature. The Legislature has only two options: it can decide to pass it into law as written or send the bill as drafted to the Maine voters as a statewide referendum question. At this stage in the citizen’s initiated petition process, the Legislature does not have the option to amend the legislation and then pass it into law. Since the ACA was enacted, members of the Legislature have tried six times to expand Medicaid coverage, with Governor LePage vetoing each of those attempts.

College Debt Assistance for Maine STEM Workers Announced

The Finance Authority of Maine will soon be administering debt-reduction grants to qualified college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). These grants are earmarked to pay up to 50 percent of a qualified student’s debt when the student commits to working for a Maine-based company, in a STEM position, for a minimum of five years. The Harold Alfond Foundation announced this initiative on Wednesday, February 22 and hopes to retain or attract 150 STEM workers to the state over the next three years. It is estimated that one in seven jobs created in Maine in the next ten years will be in a STEM field.