February 17, 2015

Augusta – Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation dealt a crippling blow to LD 47, a bill that would have permanently scrapped a potential route to connect I-395 in Brewer to Route 9 and the Eddington-Clifton area. The “Ought Not to Pass” vote was nearly unanimous, 8-1, with the bill’s Democrat sponsor representing the lone vote in favor of permanently killing the proposed connector.

Approximately $2.8 million has already been spent on feasibility studies on the project, $2.2 million of that is federal funds. Had the bill passed and the plan for the connector been eliminated, the state could have been on the hook to reimburse the Federal Highway Administration for any federal funds spent on the study, roughly $2.2 million. This is according to representatives from the Maine Department of Transportation who testified at the public hearing and work session.

During the public hearing, representatives from the Maine DOT also told the committee that this particular connector, known as 2B-2, is the only option deemed feasible for this area. All other options were ruled out for a variety of reasons such as the potential environmental impacts or safety hazards.

The hope is that eventually the 2B-2 connector will limit heavy truck traffic in the area but the project is not included in the recently released 3-year work plan by the Maine DOT so the plan is indefinitely on hold for now.

Rep. Peter Lyford, (R) from Eddington, vehemently opposed the bill and testified before the committee both during the public hearing and the work session.

“This proposed connector could one day increase commerce in the surrounding communities and simply eliminating it from consideration permanently is shortsighted,” Rep. Lyford said. “Not to mention, eliminating the connector as an option legislatively could cost the state millions of dollars and sets a terrible precedent for future projects.”

The bill now heads to the full House for a vote.

Augusta – In a true show of bipartisanship, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee voted unanimously on a plan that will provide $2,488,000 in funding to Maine’s county jails. The disbursement of the funds and temporary financial oversight over the county jails will be handled by Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick, who was confirmed to that position earlier this week.

The money comes just in the nick of time for the county jails who were facing a significant funding shortfall. The original plan was a collaborative effort between Governor Paul LePage, the House Republican lead on the Appropriations Committee Tom Winsor of Norway, and the committee’s Senate Chair Jim Hamper, (R) Oxford County. That plan was tweaked by the committee before final passage late Friday morning.

Rep. Tom Winsor: “I’m pleased everyone could come together on what I think is a reasonable solution for the dire situation that exists today. The bottom line is the jails get the money they need to maintain their operations. But we also have to realize, this is only a temporary solution and now a long-term, sustainable plan needs to be crafted so Maine’s jails can move forward without being in a constant state of financial crisis.”

The funds should be available to the jails in the coming weeks.

Augusta – The Appropriations Committee is today holding a public hearing on a measure to fund Maine’s jails. A stopgap measure, the legislation provides $2.1 million in funding for the state’s jails through the end of this fiscal year.

Senator James Hamper (R-Oxford), Chair of the Appropriations Committee, and Representative Tom Winsor (R-Norway), Republican House Lead of the Committee, arrived at the idea about a new funding mechanism last week.

“I am pleased we were able to find a creative, effective way to fix a problem within government, and I hope we are able to do that often this year.” said Senator Hamper. “This is a good first step to keep the jails afloat while we work to solve the bigger issues.”

Added Representative Winsor, “This was a problem that needed our immediate attention and I’m pleased we were able to come up with a solution. We know this is only a temporary fix that stops the bleeding and it buys more time to work out a comprehensive, long-term plan that works for everyone.”

Senate President Michael Thibodeau (R-Waldo) praised the solution, saying, “I would like to thank Senator Jim Hamper for his leadership on this matter, as well as the entire Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. I am looking forward to the full Senate and House of Representatives voting on this in a timely manner in order to provide our jails with the funding they need.”

Attached as an amendment to another spending bill, LD 234, the jail funding measure essentially bypasses the Board of Corrections by creating a receivership for money from the General Fund. In the past, funds for the jails have gone from the General Fund to the Board of Corrections and then to the jails. The change is necessary because the Board of Corrections has only two members at this time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Republicans Trying To Thwart Democrat’s Anti-Jobs Agenda

Augusta – House Republicans are once again being forced to drag our Democratic colleagues across the finish line on a simple bill that, if passed, would send the message to businesses that they are welcome and they’ll be appreciated here in Maine.

This afternoon, the Appropriations Committee will consider LD 138, typically a rubber-stamp housecleaning bill to bring Maine’s tax code in line with the federal tax code. A major piece of this legislation deals with the bonus equipment depreciation exemption that would allow businesses to claim tax deductions on equipment and other business related purchases. It’s part of the federal tax policy that allows part of those costs to be immediately deducted from the taxable income of the business. The rest of the cost is deducted over the life of the equipment and provides businesses with additional money that can be used to hire new employees. Here in Maine, bonus depreciation is administered under the Maine Capital Investment Credit.

Congress waited until December 16, 2014 to pass a budget resolution that extended a number of tax breaks for 2014, including the bonus depreciation provision.

The six Republicans on the Taxation Committee, joined by one Independent, moved swiftly to pass the measure by a narrow 7-6 vote. The six who voted in opposition represent the Democrats on the committee.

“If Democrats are serious about creating jobs in Maine, this is the type of legislation they need to support. We’re trying to make Maine a more attractive destination for businesses by sending the message that we’re here to help you succeed, not make life more difficult on you,” said Rep. Stedman Seavey of Kennebunkport, House Republican Lead on the Taxation Committee.

Many companies have already filed their 2014 taxes which included the Maine Capital Investment Credit which just about everyone anticipated they would get. This 11th hour game of chicken the Democrats have decided to play runs the risk of scaring off potential employers and could cost the state jobs in the long run.

Rep. Peter Lyford of Eddington owns a hydroseeding and commercial landscaping business with locations in Gorham and Hermon.

“Businesses like predictability and pulling the rug out from under them and costing them money they had already banked on is beyond wrong, it goes against everything we were sent to Augusta to do. If we stub our toe here it will take a long time for us to build up that trust with the business community again,” Rep. Lyford said.

This deduction represents roughly $10 million in tax revenue in the current year. That’s a small price to pay for the pro-business message it sends. Democrats have been parading all over the state preaching a jobs initiative but when they’re here in Augusta, their votes and actions are not lining up with their rhetoric. This seems to be a continuing trend but the Maine people deserve better.

The Appropriations Committee will be taking up LD 138  afternoon.

Augusta – Wednesday, House Republicans from York County joined Maine Speaker of the House Mark Eves and other Democrats to take part in an event at Pratt & Whitney aimed at celebrating the success of a jobs program that has yielded incredible results. The program is a collaboration between Pratt & Whitney and York County Community College that has filled 1,200 new jobs in the area with the help of $330,000 in state funds. Representatives Bob Foley, Karen Gerrish and Don Marean were invited to take part in the event.

“We’re pleased that Democrats have finally realized what we’ve been saying for a long time; Jobs are created in the private sector and government should only be there to help that process along, not hinder it,” said Rep. Bob Foley who represents most of Wells.

Making sure Maine’s workforce has the skills employers are looking for will help take a bite out of Maine’s unemployment numbers.

“This sort of targeted approach is exactly what we need to help hard-working Mainers find good paying jobs,” said Rep. Karen Gerrish who represents Acton, Lebanon and part of Shapleigh. “We are very interested in using this program as a model to bring good paying jobs to the rest of Maine.”

In the process of Wednesday’s event, Speaker Eves spoke about a $5 million, 5 year plan to bolster public-private training partnerships across Maine. House Republicans have not been fully briefed on this proposal and we will withhold final judgment until we have had the opportunity to hear from Speaker Eves about all the details in his plan.

It is refreshing to know that amidst all the differences between Republicans and Democrats, we may be able to find some common ground when it comes to issues like closing the jobs gap and
Maine is slowly but steadily emerging from one of the worst recessions in recent memory. The initiatives Governor LePage and the Republican-led Legislature have implemented over the past four years have been the driving force in that recovery. The unemployment rate in Maine continues to drop and we are now getting our fiscal house in order after years of budget deficits with Democrats in control.

Augusta – It’s been five days since Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson decided she no longer wanted to represent the people of Rockland and Owls Head in the Maine House of Representatives.

Despite the fact Rep. Dickerson announced her plans to resign on Facebook and in a media release, as of Thursday afternoon, she had yet to submit her formal letter of resignation to the Secretary of State. House Republicans want to know why she has not formally stepped down. According to the Bangor Daily News, there are now three people who are interested in representing the people of House District 93.

“The people of Rockland and Owls Head deserve proper representation in the Maine House,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette. “We want to know why, if Rep. Dickerson truly wants to give up her seat, she has yet to formally resign? There are people ready and willing to step in and do the job. What’s the delay?”

Augusta – Tuesday, we all got the news that Madison Paper Industries would be laying off an undetermined number of employees due to a halt in paper production. House Republicans share in the frustration of the workers who must endure this temporary layoff. Rep. Brad Farrin, Rep. Larry Dunphy and Rep. Tom Skolfield all represent a number of people who are negatively impacted by these untimely layoffs.

“We want them to know we’re here for them. Anything they need we encourage them to reach out to us and we’ll do everything we can to help them,” said Rep. Farrin, who represents House District 111 which encompasses most of Madison, Norridgewock and Solon.

One of the most frustrating parts in all of this is one of the reasons these layoffs were necessary. In a letter sent to Maine’s Congressional delegation, Madison Paper Industries President Russ Drechsel wrote:

“We regret having to take this downtime, but conditions in the U.S. market for supercalendered paper, combined with the increased energy costs we incur during the cold winter months, require us to reduce production.”

One of the top priorities for House Republicans in this upcoming session is to continue our efforts to lower Maine’s energy costs. High energy costs are squeezing some of the state’s largest employers like Verso Paper, Old Town Fuel and Fiber and now Madison Paper Industries to the point where they’re shutting their doors either temporarily or in some cases permanently. This is unacceptable and House Republicans are committed to focusing our attention on the solution to Maine’s energy crisis to keep these businesses vibrant and here in our state. We made progress in the 126th Legislature with the passage of the omnibus energy bill, a multi-faceted approach dealing with the cost of electricity and natural gas in Maine, ocean energy and rate relief among other things. This bill was a great jumping off point and now we must remain vigilant in our efforts to reduce Maine’s high energy costs even more.

“We see these layoffs as yet another warning that all of us in the Maine Legislature need to act now,” said Rep. Dunphy. “I worked at Madison Paper for decades and I know they want to stay in Maine. Those of us in state government need to be there to assist businesses in our state not hinder them.”

“These layoffs should not be a way of life for the hard-working folks at Madison Paper,” said Rep. Skolfield. “Maine will never be competitive as long as we have these exploding energy costs hanging around our necks like an albatross.”

House Republicans would like to thank Congressman Bruce Poliquin who has already reached out to Madison Paper Industries officials as well as union representative to offer his support. We now have the right team in place to address the energy issue in Maine. We urge our Democratic colleagues in in the 127th Legislature to work with us on this critical issue.

Workers impacted by the layoffs can contact the House Republican Office to speak with Rep. Farrin, Rep. Dunphy or Rep. Skolfield and share their thoughts and concerns. That number is: 207-287-1440

Augusta – Tuesday afternoon, top Democrat leaders gathered in the Hall of Flags to deliver their top legislative priorities for the upcoming session. Although what we heard sounded eerily similar to the speeches Democrats gave on the campaign trail, it was at the very least refreshing to hear their tone has changed from the past two years, when they were happy to play the role of obstructionists when it came to paying back the hospitals, and even tried to sell the Blaine House. It’s apparent they heard the message sent by voters in November.

House Republican Leadership is willing to engage our Democrat colleagues on the issues of critical importance facing the people of Maine.

“Campaign speeches are easy to write,” said House Republican Leader, Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport. “But passing transformational legislation like the omnibus energy bill that passed with bipartisan support last session is the type of effort that is truly needed to move Maine forward.”

Issues like energy cost reduction, restructuring and lowering the tax burden on Maine residents and businesses, and continuing to reform our welfare programs remain at the top of our priority list. The governor’s budget released last week gives us an outline and opens up a conversation aimed at attracting capital and investment to Maine and proposes the types of innovative reforms the state has sorely needed for more than three decades.

“Now that the campaigns are over and the voters of Maine have spoken, we’re asking Democrats to show they’re sincerely interested in working in a bipartisan fashion to help the people of Maine through their votes and not with the same old tired rhetoric,” Rep. Fredette said.

“Actions really do speak louder than words,” said Assistant House Republican Leader, Ellie Espling of New Gloucester. “Let’s see if the House Majority is up to the challenge. We look forward to working with them and not against them to help move Maine in a positive direction. And as always, our door is always open to help advance that conversation.”

The following is a link to a Bangor Daily News article on the resignation of Rep. Dickerson. House Republicans wish her all the best in her future endeavors.

href=”http://http://bangordailynews.com/2015/01/11/news/midcoast/democratic-state-representative-from-rockland-resigns/”>

Augusta – House Republican leaders are thrilled at the news of Governor LePage’s nomination of Carlisle McLean to the Public Utilities Commission. Her background in environmental land use and climate strategy make her a perfect fit for the job.

House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport has been a leader on energy reforms in his time in the legislature. He co-sponsored the historic omnibus energy bill last session that helped to cut energy costs in Maine. That bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support.

“Energy reform is a top priority for Republicans this session,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport. “Carlie McLean is smart and will take a pragmatic approach to the state’s energy issues and act in the best interest of Mainers, not the special interest groups.”

“Maine is in the midst of an energy crisis. The exploding cost of electricity is crippling Maine people and Maine businesses and we need to find a solution now. Governor LePage has certainly picked the right person for this challenging job,” added Assistant House Republican Leader, Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester.

House Republicans urge our colleagues on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee as well as in the Senate to join us in our strong support of Carlisle McLean’s nomination to serve on the PUC.