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.

PRC speaks out

Last week the Portland Regional Chamber’s board of directors voted on each of the five proposed bonds that will come before the Legislature tomorrow. The bonds are:

  • $51 million dollars for transportation projects, including badly needed highway and bridge repair;
  • $20 million dollars for research & development investments awarded on a competitive bid basis through the Maine Technology Institute;
  • $11.3 million dollars for higher education investments including Community College capacity building and new medical technology to support husbandry;
  • $8 million dollars to fund water and sewer infrastructure investments, and
  • $5 million dollars to fund the Land for Maine’s Future program.

Our board used four main criteria (first developed in 2009) to evaluate each bond:

  • The overall purpose of any borrowing proposal should advance economic development,
  • Bonds should focus on some or all of the following priorities: a) job creation, b) high quality infrastructure, (c) energy affordability and (d) maximized draw down of federal or other matching funding,
  • Bonds should provide specificity to define the uses of any expenditure, and
  • New bonds should keep state debt expenditures at no more than 5% of total state spending

Our board’s analysis was decisive. 95% of Board members voted to support the transportation bond. 85% voted to support the R&D bond, and the same number supported the water & sewer bond. 80% voted to support the higher education bond. Our Board took no position on the Land for Maine’s Future bond.

Board members were not unanimous, but heavy majorities saw good economic justification in the investments proposed by the first four bonds listed above. If you agree we urge you to contact your local lawmakers today and share your support for each of these bonds.

State Policy round-up: Tomorrow the Maine Legislature returns to complete its work for 2012. Lawmakers have a DHHS supplemental budget to deal with ( LD 1746) – for the first time the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee was unable to put together a bipartisan agreement. 5 bonds will be voted on, and the Special Appropriations Table will be run, determining the fate of 52 bills that either need funding now or need lawmakers’ approval of future state spending.

You can expect legislators to remain in session for most of the week, and then leave to work on their campaigns – Susan Cover previewed upcoming primaries in the PPH. Elsewhere:

Ballot watch: More on the new changes to the Maine Clean Elections Act on MPBN. The PPH’s Colin Woodward looked at how private funding though leadership PAC’s continue to be a part of the election funding landscape.

Bonds: Sen. Chris Rector made the case for the $20 million dollar R&D bond, which his legislative committee helped shape. The BDN editors supported the $5 million dollar Land for Maine’s Future bond. The PPH editors supported the $20 million dollar R&D bond.

Budget: With a partisan divide on how to reduce MaineCare spending Republican lawmakers unveiled their proposal for the next supplemental budget ( LD 1746) – coverage in the PPH and BDN. Democrats objected to Republican proposals ( LSJ, PDS, MPBN). The BDN editors commented on the need for MaineCare reform, the LSJ editors wondered about paying for tax cuts in the budget, and the PPH editors criticized proposed MaineCare reductions. Head Start cuts raised concerns ( BDN). Rep. Kathy Chase and Rep. David Webster both went on WGAN to discuss opposing views of the budget.

Economic Development: Matt Wickenheiser looked at the recent surge in Maine mergers and acquisitions ( BDN). Ron Nykiel discussed how Maine could boost its business environment by facilitating franchise growth.

Education: Many key pieces of education policy remain undecided in the last days of the session ( PPH). Chancellor James Page completed a visit to USM ( PPH, LSJ).

Energy: The PPH’s Tux Turkel looked at new challenges facing alternative power producers’ ability to connect to the electric distribution system. He also covered disputes that have arisen as a result ( PPH).

Environmental: Mining regulations may have been amended by the legislature this year, but actual mining operations may still be years away ( PPH).

Health Care: Over the last 5 years the amount of free care given by state hospitals has doubled ( PPH) – Richard Petersen commented on behalf of Maine Medical Center. At the same time the cost of care is keeping significant numbers away from the doctor ( BDN).

Labor: Maine’s job market may be finally picking up ( BDN). Old accounting systems (or their absence) created another fiscal problem, this time for the Labor Department ( BDN).

Regulatory Reform: Chief Executive Magazine recognized Maine’s progress in lowering taxes and regulatory burdens by bumping up the state’s business friendly ranking to 32nd nationally ( PPH).

Small business: Rep. Amy Volk commented on the two finalists for the New England regional administrator for the Small Business Administration.

Taxation: Scott Moody analyzed the dynamic fiscal effects of zero income tax jurisdictions.

Transportation: The Sierra Club announced its opposition to the proposed East/West highway ( BDN) – Pete Vigue made the case for the investment at the Lincoln Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce ( BDN).

Upcoming events: Just a reminder that we have two upcoming Small Business Matters U.S. Senate primary debates.

  • On Wednesday May 16th the four Democratic Party candidates are set to talk about the issues facing small business, and all of Maine.
  • On Wednesday May 23rd the six Republican Party candidates will join us for a similar conversation.

Both events take place from 7 to 9 am at the Portland Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland. If you haven’t registered yet it not’s too late – visit our registration page and join us for both events!

What’s happening this week at the State House: On Tuesday the legislature returns for its last few days of work before the November elections. You can find the entire state house schedule right here.

Senate watch: A new poll from Critical Insights found that 42% of Maine voters can’t name a single candidate running for the open U.S. Senate seat, while 46% knew Angus King, and the 10 other candidates polled at 10% name recognition or less ( BDN).

Around the Region: Most communities in our region are moving toward final approval of next year’s school and municipal budgets. Several communities in our region vote on school budgets this week. Keep your eyes open for the date of the budget referendum in your town by visiting your municipality’s website.

Cape Elizabeth & South Portland: In Cape Elizabeth the School Board has adopted a new vision statement for the community’s school system – read the news here at the Town’s website. The Council votes tonight on the combined school/municipal budget for next year.

In South Portland voters get their say on next year’s school budget at an election tomorrow ( Forecaster). A second farmers market may be coming to the Maine Mall area ( PPH, Current).

Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland the SAD 51 Board of Directors has approved next year’s budget ( Forecaster).

In Falmouth community summer programs have been announced on the Town website.

Portland: In Portland the School Budget was reduced after Council review, but then won Council approval ( PDS, BDN) – the PPH editors urged support for the School Budget which goes before voters tomorrow ( Forecaster). Elsewhere:

  • A parking fee increase at City-owned garages contained in the proposed municipal budget concerned business people ( PPH);
  • Portland’s loss of cargo shipping may be temporary ( Forecaster);
  • Expansion plans at the Eastland Hotel are under scrutiny ( PPH, PDS, PPH);
  • One of three finalists for the open School Superintendent position will meet with the public tomorrow for a Q&A session ( BDN); and
  • 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: Voters get their say on next year’s school budget at the polls on Tuesday ( Forecaster). New development is coming on the Haigis Parkway ( PPH).

Westbrook and Gorham: In Westbrook the Council gave the combined school and municipal budget its first reading ( Current). Changes in the City’s sprinkler ordinance have been made – more may be coming ( Current). Affordable housing plans have run into some questions ( Current).

In Gorham June 12 election information has been posted on the Town’s website.

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!

If you’d like to become a Partner, please contact Chamber CEO Godfrey Wood. And for more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber – businesses building a better community – just click here.

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