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  • Latest RGGI auction brings in over $1.5 million - $85 million to date for Maine

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine earned $1,555,662 in The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s (RGGI) 35th auction of carbon dioxide allowances. RGGI is the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and is viewed as a model for other regions.

     Since RGGI’s inception Maine has brought in $85,166,608.15 for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. Many of these programs and projects are managed through the Efficiency Maine Trust, set up by the Baldacci administration.

    14,371,300 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $3.00. Bids for the CO2 allowances ranged from $2.15 to $13.75 per allowance.

    The March 8th auction was the first auction of 2017, and generated $43.1 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2 allowance auctions for all the 9 states participating exceed $2.68 billion dollars. 

    In Maine, the program first started when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had lawmakers introduce a bill. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House.

    “RGGI is still working and still helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation,” said State Representative Seth Berry, the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

    With ocean acidification on the rise Maine’s lobstermen are worried and have become proponents of RGGI. “Since RGGI’s inception in 2009, we have seen a 35 percent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants and substantial investments in energy efficiency across Maine,” said Richard Nelson a lobster fisherman and member of the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission and the Maine Regional Ocean Planning Advisory Group.

    “The reinvestment of these auction proceeds will help to build on the RGGI states’ track record of achieving emissions reductions together with economic growth,” said Katie Dykes, Chair of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors.

    During Governor John Baldacci’s tenure his energy office developed a 50-year energy plan to help make the state energy independent. Many of the plans components of were implemented before Governor LePage took office, like becoming a member of RGGI.

    Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels while bringing clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants for weatherization of homes and to help new alternative energy innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine.

    “Year after year, RGGI delivers triple benefits—economic, social, and environmental,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors.  “More than a decade ago our states chose to step up in the absence of federal action, and independent reports have found significant payback as a result. RGGI is boosting state economies and lowering consumers’ energy bills while driving down carbon emissions and reducing the harmful health effects of fossil fuel pollution. The RGGI states continue to invest in the health of our communities while providing a clear market signal to power producers.”

     

     

    RGGI History — 

    The first pre-compliance RGGI auction took place in September 2008, and the program became effective on January 1, 2009. 

    In 2003, governors from Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont began discussions to develop a regional cap-and-trade program addressing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

    On December 20, 2005, seven of those states announced an agreement to implement RGGI, as outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Governor's of Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. The MOU, as amended, provides the outlines of RGGI. New Jersey is the only state to opt-out of the program under Governor Christie’s leadership, missing out on millions of revenues.

  • LePages' budget proposal endangers state park jobs with private contractor jobs

    Maine's beauty, photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee held a joint public hearing on March 10,2017 on portions of Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal that would outsource two dozen jobs at Maine’s state parks and eliminate management positions involved in overseeing historic sites or public lands.

    The proposal would not save the state any money and would merely shift funding to private contractors. Private companies have no moral incentives to maintain public lands as state workers have to under Maine's Constitution.

    “This state’s best assets - our people, our natural resources, our quality of life and place - are exactly what Mainers and our many, many visitors value about our state parks,” said Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. “Our friendly, knowledgeable and hard-working rangers are part of what makes the experience so special. This proposal is yet another example of a shortsighted vision that neither saves the taxpayers money nor effectively stewards one of our key economic assets.”

    Maine’s more than 50 state parks and historic sites reported nearly 2.9 million visitors in 2016, setting an attendance record for the second straight year.

    But under the LePage Administration, Mainers are paying more to use their state parks. The price of an annual park pass rose 50 percent this year, from $70 to $105, the first increase since 2002.

    In addition since the consolidation of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Conservation in 2012, the LePage administration has cut the number of staffers throughout the new, larger agency. In some cases, state workers are doing more but not being compensated properly for the extra work. While in other departments - the work isn't getting done.

    “Mainers are paying more, yet the department is forced to do less and less. Key positions are going unfilled and services are being eroded,” said Michelle Dunphy, Chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. “It’s only a matter of time before our iconic Maine brand is damaged as a result. Democrats are focused on conservation policies that result in a stronger, more vibrant economy. ”

    The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee has now ended its joint committee public hearings. Next week, they will start receiving report backs from the policy committees and hold public hearings on legislation not related to the budget.

     

  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Republicans and 8 Democratic lawmakers are about to rob Maine of a minimum wage victory

    Some hard working minimum wage ME earners. Photo by Jeff Kirlin

    Editorial by Rep. Justin Chenette

    As the president of the Maine Young Democrats, I take very seriously questions regarding creating unnecessary division in an environment where forward motion for progressive political change requires both political figures and grassroots activists to stand together in advancing a political program, even when perfect consensus between the grassroots and those in office is rare, or even impossible. I believe that sometimes in order to get closer to “perfect,” you need to sometimes fight for things that are simply “good.”

    That mediation between ideals and political realities is never a clean one, and those in the business of creating a space for change within the political process have to constantly assess where the line is between bending and breaking questions of moral principle: is conceding ten percent to get ninety percent of what you want an acceptable compromise? What about getting ten and giving ninety? Each decision requires an evaluation of your core principles, your leverage to get more than what is on the table, and who compromise might leave behind.

    That last –who gets left behind in a compromise– is one that must now be considered on the news this week that eight Democratic members of the Legislature are co-sponsoring a Republican-backed bill that would roll back a key provision of the minimum wage referendum passed overwhelmingly by Maine voters last November, stripping tipped workers from the new law and keeping them at a subminimum wage.

    According to federal data, tipped workers in Maine earn on average only around $9.00 an hour, and with food service industries disproportionately represented by women who face some of the highest rates of workplace sexual harassment in the country (which has, not coincidentally, been tied to the power imbalance between customers and servers that tipping creates), these workers are some of the most vulnerable in the state. To make matters worse, food service workers must stand up to the political might of the National Restaurant Association (and its Maine-based affiliate, the Maine Restaurant Association), which has fought to strip tipped workers from minimum wage laws for decades.

    When citizens and organizers came together to draft and pass the minimum wage referendum into law, they included tipped workers in that referendum despite knowing that it would draw significant opposition from the MRA, a group that is so anti-worker that it continued to lobby Sen. Susan Collins to support failed Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder even after revelations of egregious violations of workplace protections and personal standards of conduct came to light. They did so because they recognized that compromising here and leaving tipped-workers out of the legislation was an unacceptable condition of victory. Even getting the majority of Maine workers a raise at the expense of tipped workers was not an acceptable trade-off in this fight.

    This strategic gamble, this failure to compromise on a key moral principle, was fortunately vindicated at the ballot box by Maine voters.

    Because the minimum wage referendum is now law, legislators would have to affirmatively pass a bill that overrules the will of the voters and strips out the tipped-wage provision. If these eight members of the Democratic caucus join a unanimous Republican bloc, this bill could very well become law. If this occurs, the legislators who supported this measure will be forced to account for their actions, even from someone like myself who recognized the difficult line even the most progressive legislators must walk. Because rather than working to thread the needle between a moral and political victory for Maine voters and workers, these Democratic cosponsors – and, certainly the seemingly unanimous bloc of Republicans ready to stand beside them – would rob us of both.

  • Belfast regional job fair seeks to close cap between employers and job seekers

    Front Street has transformed the Belfast waterfront, they employ workers that are highly skilled. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    In an effort to further energize the workforce in Waldo County, several Belfast area organizations are collaborating to host a regional job fair to be held at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center on Tuesday, March 7th, from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm. 

    “There are amazing opportunities for workforce development in the Belfast area,” says Emily Baer, Executive Director of the Belfast Creative Coalition, one of the entities organizing the job fair. “Our goal with this fair is to make sure that local employers are connected to the folks who are looking for jobs and wanting to invest their energy in our community.”

    With that in mind, the City of Belfast, the University of Maine Hutchinson Center, the Maine Department of Labor, Workforce Solutions, the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce, Our Town Belfast, and the Belfast Creative Coalition have joined forces in an effort to connect local citizens with employment opportunities.

    Working across Waldo County’s economic sectors, these organizations work closely with businesses and entrepreneurs to foster growth and development in the Belfast area. After hearing growing concerns about employers’ inability to fill jobs due to low unemployment rates, they decided to form a small working committee to address these frustrations.

    “With unemployment low, this is a tough time for businesses to find qualified hires but there are good jobs waiting for people who have the skills and qualifications and want to work,” says David Oxton, of State Sand & Gravel, Inc. in Belfast. 

    Organizers hope to connect employers and job seekers alike to seasonal and permanent employment and look forward to hosting a diverse array of Waldo County businesses at the event.

    (Photo- Downtown Belfast, Maine with reflections of historic buildings on car windows. Photo by Ramona du Houx)

    Additionally, groups such as the Maine Department of Labor and Workforce Solutions will be onsite to provide information to job seekers about upcoming interview readiness coaching, job training opportunities, and job placement assistance resources. Most of these programs were intially strated under Commissionar Laura Fortman at the Maine Department of Labor during the Baldacci administration. Unfortuantly, the LePage administration has not funded the programs to the degree they need to be. That's why this job fair will help, thanks to Belfast, by bringing local employers in to talk directly with those looking for jobs.

    This job fair is free for all employers and all job seekers. Interested employers are asked to e-mail David Grima at the Maine Department of Labor (david.m.grima@maine.gov) by February 28th in order to reserve table space. Please include the employer’s name, location, brief industry description, phone number, and a contact name in the body of the email. Job seekers are not required to register, but are invited to RSVP to the event on Facebook by searching for 'Belfast Regional Job Fair.’ 

     For additional information, please contact the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce at 207-338-5900 or Our Town Belfast at 207-218-1158.

  • Bayside Bowl will host 2017 L.L. Bean PBA League Elias Cup

    “Bayside Bowl is excited to welcome L.L. Bean as the title sponsor of this year’s PBA League Elias Cup. L.L Bean is Maine’s iconic brand,” said Justin Alfond, co-owner of Bayside Bowl, speaking at the press conference.

    Bayside will also host the MaineQuarterly.com Roth/Holman Doubles Championship

    Bayside Bowl announced on February 16, 2017 that it will host the 2017 L.L. Bean PBA League Elias Cup and the MaineQuarterly.com Roth/Holman Doubles Championship this April.

    “Bayside Bowl and the Portland community can’t wait for the Professional Bowlers Association to come back to town,” said Charlie Mitchell, managing partner. “The Elias Cup and the Roth/Holman Doubles Championship showcase the world’s best bowlers, most passionate fans and incredible sponsors that realize what a big deal this event is for our state.”

    The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) is an organization of more than 3,200 of the best bowlers from 27 countries who compete in PBA Tour. The PBA is in its 57th consecutive year of nationally-televised competition, reaching bowling fans around the world who follow PBA activities through the PBA Network which includes Xtra Frame, the PBA’s exclusive online bowling channel, ESPN and CBS Sports Network.

    “Bayside Bowl is excited to welcome L.L. Bean as the title sponsor of this year’s PBA League Elias Cup. L.L Bean is Maine’s iconic brand,” said Justin Alfond, co-owner of Bayside Bowl. “We are also thrilled to continue our partnership with the Maine Office of Tourism. We couldn’t have picked better partners to showcase the best of Maine to the country.”

    Bayside Bowl offers the Portland region an unique place for the community to get together, to bowl, to party or to watch these championships.

    “We’re super excited to be partnering with two great organizations, the PBA and Bayside Bowl, on this fun, unique event,” said Chuck Gannon, L.L.Bean’s corporate advertising manager. “This is a rare opportunity right in our own backyard, so we’re really happy to be involved. Plus, bowling is a great activity for folks of all ages, especially families.”

    “The PBA is fired up to bring the Elias Cup back and to showcase for the first time the Roth/Holman Doubles Championship” said Tom Clark, Commissioner of the PBA. “Bayside Bowl has the best audience in bowling and our players love Portland.”

    The entire event will take place from April 9th to April 16th. The MaineQuarterly.com Roth/Holman Doubles Championship will be aired live on ESPN on April 16, 2017 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm. The L.L. Bean PBA League Elias Cup will air on ESPN on four consecutive Sundays from 1:00pm to 3:00pm: April 23rd, April 30th, May 7th and May 14th.

     

    About Bayside Bowl:

    Bayside Bowl opened its doors in 2010 as Maine’s premier bowling entertainment center. Bayside Bowl is home to twelve lanes, a full bar with twelve beers on tap, an award-winning kitchen, live music, and Maine’s best bowling league, Bowl Portland. In March 2017, Bayside Bowl will unveil its expanded venue, complete with eight new bowling lanes, a mezzanine and bar overlooking the new space, and a rooftop deck. For more information, visit www.baysidebowl.com

    About the PBA:

    The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) is an organization of more than 3,200 of the best bowlers from 27 countries who compete in PBA Tour, PBA International Tour, QubicaAMF PBA Regional, PBA Women’s Regional and PBA50 Tour events. The PBA is in its 57th consecutive year of nationally-televised competition, reaching bowling fans around the world who follow PBA activities through the PBA Network which includes Xtra Frame, the PBA’s exclusive online bowling channel, ESPN and CBS Sports Network, and the PBA on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. PBA sponsors include Barbasol, Brunswick, Ebonite International, GEICO, Grand Casino Hotel and Resort, HotelPlanner.com, MOTIV, 900 Global, PBA Bowling Challenge Mobile Game, QubicaAMF, Rolltech, South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, Storm Products and the United States Bowling Congress, among others. For more information, log on to www.pba.com.

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • Maine can write a new chapter by focusing on better public policy

     

    Editorial by Rep. Craig Hickman:

    Go further and do better.

    My parents, Hazelle and Minnie Hickman, were children of the Great Depression. They were frugal, wise, resilient, and principled people, generous to a fault and strict as all get out.

    They taught me the power of community and self-reliance, to revere public service as a responsibility and a duty.

    They also taught me the values of fairness and equality in the most literal and fundamental sense. Every person gets a life, and every person should have a fair and equal shot at making that life as good and right as she or he can.

    These are Maine values too.

    I’ve learned during my time in Augusta that we need to write a new chapter of Maine’s story. For too long our story has been about shuttered factories, disappearing jobs, and communities struggling to get by.

    We can begin to write that new chapter if we focus on creating real changes through better public policy. We can do a better job protecting veterans, seniors and our natural resources. We can do a better job supporting small businesses and working families and defending personal liberties for every Mainer.

    We know our path forward.

    Maine needs policy that ensures every family can feed itself.

    Policy that gets displaced Mainers back to work creating lasting infrastructure that will rebuild our razed rural communities.

    Policy that supports local food and water systems which will strengthen farming, fishing and forestry -- our heritage industries.

    And policy that ensures liberty and justice for generations of Mainers.

    As a farmer, I know that hard work bears fruit from the bottom of the plant to the top.

    As a farmer, I know that all things thrive in the full light of day. Building consensus and increasing transparency must be the hallmarks of our approach to governance.

    We must always remain civil in the face of incivility, refuse easy scapegoats and choose our words with the care befitting the office to which we have been elected.

    And, if I have my way, we will end hunger once and for all. We will eradicate poverty and we will move Maine toward prosperity.

    The road before us is long, and we will have missteps. But when the going gets tough, I will be inspired by the wise words of my mother, who passed away two years ago this week, that we must go further and do better. We must listen more intently to the voices of those who cry in the dark. And we must always remember that our work in Augusta must ensure that every person has a fair and equal chance to make their lives as good and right as she or he can.

    On this weekend of transition in our nation, in the face of uncertainty and anxiety for many, I remain hopeful and motivated to fight for what is right, and I firmly believe that good will prevail. I hope you do too.

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • Maine lobstermen know the threat posed by climate change-we must act.

    Editorial by Richard Nelson, lobster fisherman for more than 30 years, member of the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission and the Maine Regional Ocean Planning Advisory Group. He lives in Friendship.

    I rose the other morning and began my preparations to head out on the water from Friendship Harbor to take up the my last load of lobster traps. My thoughts turned from from closing out my season to chuckling over my selection of boots for the day. My dear wife had made a special trip to the attic a month and a half ago to bring down my insulated winter boots, and I became aware of the fact that, with temperatures again climbing to the mid-40s, they would remain unworn this year.

    Many of the thoughts and decisions fishermen make are based on conditions in the environment in which we work. This is certainly not something new. Maine’s lobster industry, which is dependent on a healthy ocean and an abundant resource of lobsters, has a long established heritage of conservation.

    Our good management decisions of the past include throwing back both the large breed stock lobsters and small lobsters, putting escape vents in traps and returning egg bearing female lobsters into the water, marking them to ensure they are protected through future molts. We saw the need to set trap limits and become a limited access fishery, all the while remaining a small-boat, owner-operated fleet.

    Although these choices have helped create a fishery that is flourishing while others are not, we face environmental challenges that are beyond local control and more complex than our marine management system can address.

    The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans and is uniquely susceptible to ocean acidification. The root cause is rising carbon emissions from burning of fossil fuels. Ocean warming is believed to be a strong factor contributing to the lack of cod and shrimp, the influx of invasive species and other issues, while acidified waters are linked to the hindered ability of shellfish to produce their shells. Not only do these affect fishermen as businessmen by threatening our livelihood, but they also serve to kick-in that heritage of conservation within us.

    We realize, along with other Mainer’s, that we can no longer solve these climate issues alone but must reach out beyond our industry to friends, neighbors and decision-makers in government to support policies to maintain a healthy ocean and the resources on which we depend. But lately the help we seek on the state and federal levels has become a muddled landscape, especially since the election.

    One of the clear and consistent pathways left is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is a cooperative market-based initiative among nine northeastern states to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and spur investments in energy efficiency and clean energy production. While still allowing some self-direction by the power industry, it shifts the burden of carbon pollution costs from families and communities to the polluters and the fossil fuel companies themselves. Since its inception in 2009, we have seen a 35 percent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants and substantial investments in energy efficiency across Maine.

    This year, the program is under review, and proponents are seeking to reduce emissions by 5 percent per year from 2020 to 2030 and a doubling of our renewable power supply. The decisions made now will ensure we take full advantage of the initiative to achieve cost-effective, long-term climate goals. Action to achieve these goals would go a long way in sustaining Maine’s fisheries, both as part of what makes Maine special and the economic drivers they have become.

    From carbon policy to ocean debris, from remediating ocean acidification to increased severe weather events, all have become part of the realities and thoughts of a Maine fisherman. Let’s get our boots on and get to work.

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Union Leaders hopeful with the sale of FairPoint to Illinois-Based Consolidated Communications

     

    Leaders of unions representing telecom workers in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont responded to the announcement by Consolidated Communications Holdings Inc. that it plans to purchase FairPoint Communications in 2017. The sale is subject to approval by both companies’ shareholders and state regulators.
     
    “It’s clear that the ill-advised sale of Verizon to FairPoint in 2008 has had a profound negative impact on workers and consumers in Northern New England. Just last month, FairPoint announced another major layoff of nearly 10% of its workforce even as regulators continue to investigate their service quality failures,” said Peter McLaughlin, Business Manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2327 in Maine. “Therefore, we view this potential sale with cautious optimism. We are hopeful that Consolidated will work with us to create and maintain good jobs in our communities and really improve the quality of service that our customers deserve.”
     
    The unions confirmed that the recent layoff announced by FairPoint would go forward as planned.
     
    According to Don Trementozzi, President of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1400, “Our members and our customers have been through the ringer with FairPoint over the last eight years, and our primary concern is that this transaction result in a more stable company that puts a priority on strengthening communities, not enriching Wall Street hedge fund owners.”
     
    Union leaders said that they are looking closely at Consolidated’s finances, technical capacity, and history of labor relations as well as at the regulatory requirements for the sale. In 2007, the unions partnered with community groups to “Stop the Sale” of Verizon to FairPoint. They predicted the sale would be devastating for workers and consumers, but the sale went ahead and FairPoint declared bankruptcy in 2009. The company’s effort to slash labor costs by cutting pay and benefits and hiring unlimited contractors led to an historic four-month strike in the winter of 2014-15.
     
    “As we were back in 2007 during the Verizon transaction, we will be deeply involved in the process to ensure a fair deal for FairPoint workers no matter the outcome of this transaction,” said Steve Soule, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire. “While we certainly welcome FairPoint’s departure from Northern New England, we’ll be vigilant in examining any potential new owner and fighting for fairness for our members and our communities.”
     
    Leaders emphasized their willingness to cooperate with Consolidated should the transaction succeed with shareholders and regulators. “As long as Consolidated is ready to engage with our members and our customers with respect and fairness, we welcome this opportunity to help re-build the company and make it the success it has been in the past,” said Mike Spillane, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2326 in Vermont.
     
    The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers System Council T9 includes local unions in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and represents more than 1,400 employees at FairPoint Communications. The Communications Workers of America Local 1400 represents 150 FairPoint employees in the three states.

  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • Cumberland County Civic Center Employees Sue For Severance Pay

    Five current and former employees of the Cumberland County Civic Center, in Portland, Maine have filed a class action suit against the Cumberland County Recreation District seeking severance pay under Maine law due to the County’s cessation of operations of the Center.

    The Cumberland County Recreation District (CCRD) ceased operating the Center in March 2015 and terminated all of its employees. Although Spectra (formerly known as Global Spectrum), a Philadelphia-based division of Comcast that now operates the Center, hired many of the CCRD employees, those former employees who were hired now work under vastly different terms of employment.

     “The employees who accepted employment with Spectra now work under substantially inferior terms. For example, the Center employees previously could be terminated only for just cause and could sue if they lost their jobs if they did not agree there was cause; but, as long as it doesn’t discriminate unlawfully, Spectra can fire employees for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all, and the employees have no recourse. It also offers fewer paid holidays, many fulltime employees were asked to work significantly more hours without any additional compensation, and employees have lost the ability to take comp time for excess hours worked,” stated Plaintiff Roberta Wright, the Center’s long-time marketing director, who worked for the Center for 27 years.

    According to Wright, all the employees who were discharged had to apply for jobs with Spectra, and not all were rehired. Wright worked for Spectra for several months, then retired due to the changes in working conditions.

    Matt Drivas, another Plaintiff, was one of the employees most affected by the changes. Drivas,  worked for the Center for 33 years, including the last 17 years as its concessions manager while simultaneously holding a similar job with the Portland Sea Dogs. Civic Center management and members of its board of trustees assured Drivas that his employment would continue without any changes.

    “Instead of keeping their word, I got a call from Spectra management  advising me I no longer could work both jobs. Ultimately, I chose to work for the Sea Dogs. The loss of my job with the Center cost me the majority of my annual income and retirement,” said Drivas.

     “The employees did not want to file suit. We have tried repeatedly to resolve this matter. Unfortunately, despite the many years of service of the Center’s employees, the CCRD Trustees never seemed to take them seriously. They left their dedicated employees to the whims of an out-of-state employer who provides substantially less benefits and protections. The employees had no choice but to file suit,” said Jeffrey Neil Young, who, together with Roberta de Araujo, of the Augusta law firm Johnson, Webbert & Young represents the employees.

    Young estimated that at least 121 employees would be eligible to participate in the suit.

    Under Maine law, the Center is managed by 9 trustees who reside in Cumberland County and are appointed to the CCRD Board by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. Each trustee serves a 3-year term.

  • MEMIC announces record $20 million dividend to Maine policyholders; nearly $220 million returned since 1998

    Workers’ compensation specialist The MEMIC Group announced October 4, 2016 that it will issue a record dividend of $20 million to about 18,000 Maine policyholders this November. 
     
    The amount represents 15 percent of premium paid by Maine policyholders in 2013, the qualifying year for this dividend declaration, and the largest percentage of premium MEMIC has ever returned. With this declaration, the MEMIC Board of Directors has authorized the return of approximately $220 million to Maine policyholders since 1998. The company has now issued a dividend in each of the last 12 years and the record $20 million dividend is 54 percent more than was returned just four years ago in 2012.
     
    “Maine employers who insure with MEMIC have earned this dividend,” said MEMIC President and CEO John T. Leonard. “We work together with our policyholders to reduce injuries through safety training and education, and to help injured workers get well and back to work promptly. It takes dedication and commitment but workplace safety really does pay dividends.”
     
    The dividend will be paid to employers who buy their workers’ compensation insurance coverage from The MEMIC Group’s mutual company, Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Company, based in Portland. Checks will be delivered in November and payments will range to more than $200,000, depending on the amount of premium an employer paid in 2013

  • Brunswick Landing, the former Navy base in Maine, showing strong growth

    Redevelopment News, Fall 2016

    Executive Director's Report: Summer Sizzling With Jobs Growth

    SteveIt's been a very productive summer of redevelopment and job creation at the former Navy base. As of September 1st, our employee count was more than 1,200 workers at Brunswick Landing and Topsham Commerce Park.That number is more than triple what was originally forecast. Thanks to booming companies like Wayfair and SaviLinx, which are both hiring hundreds of workers this year, and the steady growth of additional new companies, we've easily surpassed projections. We recognize how fortunate we've been to land quality companies.

    Many are new to Maine, including SaviLinx, Wayfair, Mölnlycke Health Care, InSphero, Tempus Jets, and ONE Aviation. It's important to recognize how sticking to the Reuse Master Plan has helped us create a thriving live, work, and play community.

    The Reuse Plan calls for a disciplined focus on attracting businesses within targeted industries such as aerospace, biotech, composites, IT, and renewable energy. We've kept our aim on those sectors. Sometimes that focus has meant we've had to say no to other business activities. So far, this business attraction strategy is working. We're pleased to be closing in 100 business entities and ahead of the game, but we still have a very long ways to go and plenty of buildings to fill before we can truly call the redevelopment a success.

    Featured Property: Building 333 in Topsham Commerce Park

    Topsham office building

    MRRA has recently put one of the Topsham Commerce Park's best facilities on the market. If you're looking for an opportunity to redevelop a property with tremendous potential, 47 Canam Drive in Topsham is worth a look. The two-story brick office building was built in 1958 and was used as headquarters for the army reserve. It offers more than 13,000 SF of space, a 100-space parking lot, and is only a mile from the Topsham exit on Interstate 295. The property also comes with more than four acres of land that could be redeveloped to create an office campus within the existing business park.

    Topsham Commerce Park is a beautiful property in a quiet area close to housing and adjacent to one of the top school systems in the state of Maine. The building was designed by famous Maine architect Alonzo Harriman and is eligible for historic tax credits to developers who would preserve the building's historic integrity and architectural vernacular. It is listed at $299,000 by Don Spann of Riverside RE/MAX in Topsham.

    Additional Manufacturing Space Being Created at TechPlace to Meet Demand

    industrial spaceMRRA is wrapping up renovations on the TechPlace expansion project. The project is designed to help growing manufacturing companies in need of industrial space. The space will be ideal for companies engaged in the aerospace, composites, renewable energy, and biotech/biomed industries. Once complete in a few weeks, approximately 16,000 square feet of manufacturing space divided into several separate units will be available. The modified space, which includes an overhead monorail crane and a layup room, will be able to accommodate up to seven manufacturing businesses with individual work spaces ranging in size from 1,500 SF to 2,800 SF. The space is located adjacent to TechPlace. Brunswick Landing's Technology Accelerator, which features smaller manufacturing spaces and a shared machine shop and woodshop. View photos of the construction work »

    FAA Renews Brunswick Executive Airport's Participation in Military Airport Program

    Hangar 6The Federal Aviation Administration has selected Brunswick Executive Airport to participate in the FY16 Military Airport Program (MAP). This is great news for BXM and Brunswick Landing. It allows us to remain in the program for five additional years and be eligible for grant monies to fund airport improvement projects necessary to grow a robust aviation/aerospace business here. BXM was the only former military airport or joint use airport added to MAP this year, the third straight year FAA has picked only one participant. A total of 15 airports can participate in the program at one time. The selection will allow us to complete projects that started during the previous five years, including conversion of military hangars to civilian use, obstruction removal, drainage upgrades and installing wildlife fencing.


    Brunswick Landing Construction Projects Continue to Progress

    AvitaTwo more projects are rapidly taking shape near the front of the property. Avita of Brunswick is nearing completion of a 50,000 SF memory care facility that is scheduled to open early next year. The building is located just off Admiral Fitch Avenue on the site of the old Navy mobile home park. Landry-French, the lead contractor, says it has employed more than 150 workers during the project. Priority Real Estate Group of Topsham broke ground last month on a new convenience store and service station along Bath Road. They are moving along quickly and expect to have the bulk of the work done by mid-November. The store will be located on Bath Road across from Merrymeeting Plaza.

    MRRA Adjusting Traffic Pattern on Admiral Fitch Avenue to Increase Safety

    traffic pattern change

    Our Public Works Department recently completed work to reconfigure the traffic lanes on Admiral Fitch Ave., Brunswick Landing's main thoroughfare. The traffic pattern on Fitch from Forrestal Avenue to just beyond Pegasus Street (the four-way stop) is being changed from four lanes (two inbound and two outbound) to one lane inbound and one lane outbound with a center turn lane and designated bike lane. The project will help promote safer driving on the increasingly busy road. Motorists are reminded to please observe the posted speed limits and be mindful of the new traffic pattern. Read advisory for more information »

    TechPlace Growth Shows No Signs of Slowing Down; Go Babe Newest Tenant

    STARC SystemsWith the recent addition of Go Babe, a manufacturer of children's garments, to the roster, TechPlace now has 27 businesses. Several other firms, including a rocket company, are close to signing deals for space in Brunswick Landing's Technology Accelerator. Additionally, some of TechPlace's current businesses have already outgrown their original footprints. STARC, SteriZign, and InSphero are in serious expansion mode and may need to lease more space in TechPlace or even other buildings on the property to accommodate their growth. Some of these growing businesses may be able to take advantage of the new manufacturing space being constructed in Hangar 4 East, which is adjacent to TechPlace.

  • Rep. Bruce Poliquin Votes to Deny Overtime Pay to 16,000 Maine workers

    The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week, late in the night, to pass H.R. 6094, a bill designed to kill the new overtime rules, which are due to begin  December 1, 2016.  

    Over 16,000 Maine workers will benefit from the updated overtime standards, which Pres. Barack Obama pushed for.

    The bill would delay the law's implementation by six months.

    The Republican rationale for delaying is to give the next Congress time to kill the rule altogether. Rep. Poliquin voted to deny Maine workers overtime. 

    Rep. Chellie Pingree voted against the overtime rollback. 

    "It’s disappointing that Rep. Poliquin voted to deny 16,000 Maine workers the overtime pay they deserve.  Rep. Poliquin apparently doesn’t think workers should be paid for their labor.  A vote to delay the overtime rule is designed to kill it.  This bill will rob millions of workers of the opportunity to earn more pay or spend more time with their families, "said Maine AFL-CIO Executive Director Matt Schlobohmon.

     "Maine workers have been putting in longer hours and still not getting ahead.  The new overtime standard restored the basic promise of a fair days pay for a fair days work." 

  • SaviLinx to Hire 130 Contact Center Employees to Support Government Contract


     SaviLinx, LLC, a contact center specializing in business process outsourcing and technical support services, announces that it is hiring 130 contact center staff at its Brunswick, Maine headquarters to support an expanded government contract. Compensation for these positions will be $16.50/hour. These customer service, quality assurance, and technical positions will be in addition to the 500 contact center agents and staff at the company’s Maine and Hattiesburg, MS locations. 

    SaviLinx supported the original contract from this government agency with a team of seven. In choosing partners for the next phase of service, the agency recognized SaviLinx for its high quality of work and significantly expanded the contract. SaviLinx will hire and train the additional 130 employees throughout October. 

    “We have built SaviLinx to be a partner that helps our customers get the results they need. It is so gratifying when a customer shows their support by expanding their scope of work with us,” says Heather Blease, founder and CEO, SaviLinx. “We have a fantastic team at SaviLinx, and we are all excited to continue to grow.” 

    SaviLinx is currently accepting applications via http://www.savilinx.com/career-opportunities/. The positions are full time, and temporary with potential to convert to permanent status. SaviLinx LLC is an equal employment opportunity employer. 

    About SaviLinx 

    SaviLinx provides outsourced business process, technical support, and customer service that help companies create profitable relationships, scale with ease, and grow revenues. The combination of skilled professionals, industry knowledge, and advanced technology is the SaviLinx difference, and has driven double-digit year-over-year growth and profitability. With offices in Maine and Mississippi employing a mix of contact center and remote agents, SaviLinx offers a network-based service delivery platform to deliver a consistent and compelling customer experience across multiple channels, devices, and media. Founded in 2013, SaviLinx is headquartered at the Brunswick Landing, a decommissioned naval station in Brunswick, Maine. SaviLinx is a Women Owned Small Business. Visit the company online at www.SaviLinx.com 

  • Rock City Café of Rockland, Maine to become employee owned

    By Ramona du Houx

    After 24 years of being in business, the Rockland-based Rock City Coffee Roasters and Rock City Café will become a Maine employee-owned company.

    The extremly popular cafe draws in town locals and vistors all year with an eclectic menu of great local sandwhichs, soups and pastires. With Internet connections many enjoy a meal while working on their computers as regulars stream in and out.

    A painter often sits in the corner and draws, as a poets pens her work. It's truly a community center.

    "My crew, the average age is probably 35 years old. That's a fabulous age for an entrepreneur. They all have energy. They're all committed to Rockland. They are the future. I've been doing this so long . . . I want them to have that sense of ownership," said Susanne Ward, owner of the café and roastery. 

    The decision to become an employee-owned cooperative came as Ward began to plot what will happen to the company when she decides to retire. It also is akin to her outlook on life and business. More and more Maine businesses are becoming employee owned.

  • Trump would repeal 'Obamacare' and 20 million would lose health coverage

    BY RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR--ASSOCIATED PRESS

     A new study that examines some major health care proposals from the presidential candidates finds that Donald Trump would cause about 20 million to lose coverage while Hillary Clinton would provide coverage for an additional 9 million people.

    The 2016 presidential campaign has brought voters to a crossroads on health care yet again. The U.S. uninsured rate stands at a historically low 8.6 percent, mainly because of President Barack Obama’s health care law, which expanded government and private coverage. Yet it’s uncertain if the nation’s newest social program will survive the election.

    Republican candidate Trump would repeal “Obamacare” and replace it with a new tax deduction, insurance market changes, and a Medicaid overhaul. Democrat Clinton would increase financial assistance for people with private insurance and expand government coverage as well.

    The two approaches would have starkly different results, according to the Commonwealth Fund study released Friday.

    The analysis was carried out by the RAND Corporation, a global research organization that uses computer simulation to test the potential effects of health care proposals. Although the New York-based Commonwealth Fund is nonpartisan, it generally supports the goals of increased coverage and access to health care.

    Economist Sara Collins, who heads the Commonwealth Fund’s work on coverage and access, said RAND basically found that Trump’s replacement plan isn’t robust enough to make up for the insurance losses from repealing the Affordable Care Act. “Certainly it doesn’t fully offset the effects of repeal,” Collins said.

    One worrisome finding is that the number of uninsured people in fair or poor health could triple under Trump. It would rise from an estimated 2.1 million people under current laws to between 5.7 million and 7.1 million under Trump’s approach, depending on which of his policy proposals was analyzed.

    When uninsured people wind up in the hospital, the cost of their treatment gets shifted to others, including state and federal taxpayers. Trump has said he doesn’t want people “dying on the street.”

    The study panned one of Trump’s main ideas: allowing insurers to sell private policies across state lines. Collins said insurers would cherry-pick the healthiest customers and steer them to skimpy plans. Other experts don’t see it as bleakly, believing that interstate policies could attract customers through lower premiums.

    A prominent Republican expert who reviewed the study for The Associated Press questioned some of its assumptions, but said the overall conclusion seems to be on target. “You could quibble about some of the modeling, but directionally I think it’s right,” said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a center-right public policy center.

    Collins said the analysis examined some major proposals from each candidate, but did not test every idea.

    The Trump proposals included repealing the Obama health care law, as well as a host of replacement ideas consisting of a new income tax deduction for health insurance, allowing policies to be sold across state lines, and turning the Medicaid program for low-income people into a block grant, which would mean limiting federal costs.

    The study estimated that Trump’s repeal of “Obamacare” would increase the number of uninsured people from 24.9 million to 44.6 million in 2018. But then his replacement proposals would have a push-pull effect. The tax deduction and interstate health insurance sales would help some stay covered, but the Medicaid block grant would make even more people uninsured.

    “The people who would actually gain coverage tend to have higher incomes,” said Collins.

    The result would be an estimated 45.1 million uninsured people in 2018 under Trump – an increase of 20.2 million, reversing the coverage gains under Obama.

    The Clinton proposals analyzed included a new tax credit for deductibles and copayments not covered by insurance, a richer formula for health law subsidies, a fix for the law’s “family glitch” that can deny subsidies to some dependents, and a new government-sponsored “public option” health plan.

    Taken together, the analysis estimated that Clinton’s proposals would reduce the number of uninsured people in 2018 to 15.8 million, which translates to a gain of 9.1 million people with coverage. Not included were Clinton’s idea for allowing middle-aged adults to buy into Medicare and her plan to convince more states to expand Medicaid.

    Collins said the researchers will update their estimates for both campaigns as more details become available.

    The health care report follows another recent analysis that delved into the candidates’ tax proposals. That study by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that Trump’s latest tax proposals would increase federal debt by $5.3 trillion over the next decade, compared with $200 billion if Clinton’s ideas were enacted. The Trump campaign disputed those findings.

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • Democrats' policy plans for A Better State of Maine will help families, businesses thrive

    Policies on infrastructure, competitive advantages, vibrant communities to get Maine back on track

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    At a public forum at Mt. Ararat High School, Democratic leaders from the Maine Legislature on September 21, 2016 unveiled “A Better State of Maine,” their vision to build a state where young families and businesses can realize the American Dream by living in healthy, vibrant communities with good paying jobs.Democrats plan to achieve their vision with smart policies that modernize infrastructure, build on the state’s competitive advantages and support the the state's special creative economy.

    “Maine’s success depends on our ability to keep our next generation in state and to bring new people as well. We can do that through smart, targeted strategies to make Maine an attractive place for families, entrepreneurs, workers and small business owners,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dawn Hill. “Our vision calls for needed investments in our infrastructure, capitalizing on our competitive advantages, equipping young people with the skills they need to compete and policies that support vibrant communities.”

    The policy rollout discussion was wide-ranging and touched on some of Maine’s most challenging problems:

    • Maine's population is the oldest state in the Nation. The majority of workers- in the next ten years- will be of retirement age, leaving huge institutional gaps in the workforce, and creating a greater need to help the elderly retire with dignity and proper healthcare.
    • Not only is our populous aging, so is our infrastructure. The state needs road, bridge and railroad upgrades.
    • Broadband service has to cover all of Maine and cities need to accomidate middle class incomes with affordable housing.
    • Young college graduates are moving out of the state to find jobs that pay decent salaries. And while the medium income is around $30,000 for the Second District, it's $50,000 in the 1st, this disparity needs to be addressed.

    “Maine is losing its young people as they are forced to look for opportunity elsewhere. We need solutions that help young families build their lives in Maine and that revitalize our economy – one cannot happen without the other,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon. “The consequences for our state are dire if we remain on this trajectory. But the right policies can get us back on track.”

    “A Better State of Maine” recognizes that the next generation is our greatest asset and that policymakers must embrace policies that make it possible for young people to build long, prosperous lives in Maine. The number of retirement-aged Mainers is growing and will continue to do so while the number of working-age Mainers will shrink, if there's no policy interventions, according to projections by Maine’s state economist.

    What most people don't realize is that Democrats have been stoically working on all the above issues, while the LePage administration has been obstructing their efforts.

    House Speaker Mark Eves, and Senator Justin Alfond did get laws or reviews passed, some with funding, for all of the above. The bills were drastically watered down from their initial proposals but, and this is an important point, they started the ball rolling. With each session, these laws could and should be strengthened.

    In order to accomplish anything in state government, every bill takes baby steps before it becomes established with larger programs. This is especially true if there is a dramatic divide on how to accomplish these goals.

    At present the LePage administration is opposed to the majority of Democratic initiatives. Democrats want bonds to help in all the above and in research and development. These kinds of bonds have proven to grow the economy with good paying jobs and benefits. So, in order to grow Maine's economy Democrats need majorities in the House and Senate to get needed initiatives passed.

    They identified what policies that will help Maine regain its competitive edge:

    • Strengthening the backbone of Maine’s economy through targeted investments in transportation, broadband and energy;
    • Capitalize on Maine’s competitive advantages, including aquaculture and agriculture, the state’s high-value brand and heritage industries;
    • and Prioritizing policies that support vibrant communities where young families can thrive and equip young people with the work skills they need to make a good living. These include effective training and education opportunities, investments in early childhood and schools and policies to encourage home ownership.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • FairPoint strikers win victory in Business Court with overturned decision

    by Ramona du Houx

    On Friday, August 26, 2016, FairPoint strikers won a victory In Business Court when a previous decision was overturned.

    “When we fight, we win. Employees should be entitled to benefits in situations like this where companies are demanding substantial concessions and use scabs to attempt to achieve their goals,” said Don Trementozzi, business manager for CWA, Local 1400, which represents most of FairPoint’s call center workers.

    Maine’s Business Court handed a major victory to former strikers at FairPoint when it reversed a decision of the Unemployment Insurance Commission that denied unemployment benefits to the employees.

    The Court’s decision rejected the Commission’s mandate that in order to obtain benefits, the employees had to prove that FairPoint had maintained substantially normal operations during the lengthy 4-month labor dispute in 2014-15.

    “The Business Court’s decision is a major victory for our members just in time for Labor Day. The decision validates what we have been saying all along—that if FairPoint wants to operate with scabs, it should pay the price and have to pay unemployment benefits,” said Pete McLaughlin, the business manager for IBEW, Local 2327, which represents most of the FairPoint utility workers.

    According to the Business Court’s decision, the Commission erred when it placed the burden of proof on employees, rather than FairPoint, to show that there had not been a stoppage of work. The Business Court’s decision was the first time that the Maine courts have addressed who has the burden of proof in labor disputes.

    Second, the Business Court rejected the Commission’s determination that when Maine amended the unemployment statute in 1985, the Legislature had changed the standard for receipt of unemployment benefits during a strike. Prior to, and even after 1985, Maine courts, like most state courts around the nation, and the Commission, had held that workers were disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits only if the strike caused a substantial curtailment of the employer’s operations.

    However, in its October 2015 decision, the Commission changed course and rejected the substantial curtailment standard; instead, the Commission held that the workers were ineligible for benefits because FairPoint had not maintained substantially normal operations during the strike, a more difficult standard to meet than the substantial curtailment standard.

    The Business Court found that the Legislature had not intended to make any change in the substantial curtailment standard.

    Finally, the Business Court held that the Commission needed to make a week by week determination of eligibility for benefits, raising the possibility that the FairPoint strikers might be entitled to benefits for some if not all weeks during the strike.

    The Business Court’s decision means that the case will be returned to the Commission to reconsider its decision. 

    “FairPoint must now prove that there was a substantial curtailment of work for each and every week of the strike. Workers do not strike often, and usually only strike as a last resort in the face of extreme employer conduct. The FairPoint strikers will be able at least for the near future to keep the unemployment benefits they received pursuant to a decision of a Department of Labor Hearing Officer, who found (unlike the Commission) that no substantial curtailment had occurred. And, it should be easier in the future for employees involved in a labor dispute to receive unemployment benefits, particularly where, as here, the employer chooses to hire strike replacements,” said Jeffrey Neil Young of the Augusta law firm Johnson, Webbert & Young.

  • It’s time to embrace solar and all it can do for Maine

     

    Editorial by Rep. Deane Rykerson- Rykerson from Kittery serves on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

    LePage squanders jobs, environmental benefits, savings for Maine families and businesses

    When it comes to solar, the future is here. There’s so much opportunity for Maine, but we’re missing out because of opposition from our governor, Paul LePage, and his die-hard allies. We’re missing out on jobs, on energy savings for families and businesses and on a cleaner environment.

    In 1963, my solar energy project won first place in my eighth-grade science fair. There was no economical way then to convert the free and abundant power of sunlight into electricity. Solar cells were for satellites or experiments. Their availability for everyday people and businesses seemed far away.

    Governor, it’s now 2016 – not 1963 anymore. Solar technology has advanced and prices are way down. We should be installing more solar and creating jobs. Without a comprehensive policy, we’re not going to be able to seize the opportunities or even catch up to the rest of the country.

    This year, the governor and enough of his House Republican friends killed the bipartisan solar plan supported by the electric utilities that would have finally brought our policies into the 21st century.

    They threw away over 600 new jobs and put our 300 existing homegrown solar jobs at risk. They threw away $58 million to $110 million in savings for ratepayers. They threw away energy savings for Maine families and businesses, including agriculture.

    The governor keeps talking about energy policies that simply aren’t real solutions.  

    There’s hydropower from Quebec for one. The thing he leaves out is that Quebec is never going to sell us power at the subsidized Canadian rate. It’s in their law. And you can’t get that power from there to here without building new transmission lines. Vermont has learned that Canadian hydro is not a money saver. They’re buying power from Quebec and they have consistently higher electric rates than Maine.

    Meanwhile, we know that the value of solar generation in Maine is more than two-and-half times the retail rate of electricity – and that’s not even including the jobs created.

    Solar generation is free after the initial investment. It saves us from paying for transmission power loss or building new dirty generation and power lines. It reduces pollutants and the health costs associated with them.

    And we keep our money in the state.

    As a frugal Yankee, I don’t want to pay overseas conglomerates to burn oil and gas for my electricity when I can make it freely and cleanly on my garage roof – all while supporting Maine workers.

    On these hot summer days, I think about all the money I’m saving. This is when the grid has the most demand and electricity is the most expensive. Solar saves money for everyone using electrical power.

    It’s time to embrace solar and all it can do for Maine. It is the way forward.

  • Republican legislators that voted against property tax relief, students and factory workers exposed

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee launched a series of digital ads challenging four Republican state legislators for their key votes against property tax relief, teachers and working Mainers.

    “These four Republican legislators have repeatedly voted against the interests of hardworking Mainers, and these ads call them out by name,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett. “Mainers deserve to know where their legislators stand, and these ads show just that. We will continue to hold Republicans accountable for failing to fight for the people they are supposed to serve.” 

    Workers at Kennebec Lumber in Solon, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, Sen. Scott Cyrway of Benton, Sen. Rodney Whittemore of Skowhegan, and Rep. Ricky Long of Sherman all voted against major bills:

    1. to provide property tax relief for seniors, 
    2. to address Maine’s dire teacher shortage,
    3. a “Buy America” bill that would have required state contractors to use materials made in the United States.

    Wielder in Waterville, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Voters need senators who will work every day to give them a fighting chance, so that people who work hard and play by the rules can get ahead,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond. “Our candidates are committed to an economy in which everyone has a fair shot at success. These ads highlight the simple question Mainers all over the state have for Republicans in the Legislature: Where were you when Maine’s seniors, students and manufacturing workers needed you?”

    Maine is one of only ten states in the nation that have not recovered all the jobs it lost in the recession. The state continues to lag behind the rest of New England economically. 

    The digital ads can be found at the links below:

  • Jackson Laboratory sees benefit in raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour




     The Jackson Laboratory has announced a major adjustment in its wage scales for close to 43 percent of its workforce. Nearly 800 employees will benefit from the raise. 

    With the exception of employees in their first six months of training, the lowest wage for full-time workers will now be $15 per hour. The total increase in payroll is expected to be $3.8 million annually.

     Affected employees come from nearly 60 towns around eastern Maine and Waldo County. They are frontline staff working in animal care and positions supporting the laboratory’s research, administration and operations. The average starting salary in many of the affected jobs had been between $10 and $11 per hour.

    “Jackson Laboratory has long recognized that employees are its greatest asset and is proud to be a leader in recognizing and rewarding hourly workers,” stated Chief Operating Officer Charles Hewitt. “This increase in wage scales rewards their improved productivity and increased contribution to the laboratory’s success. It reflects the laboratory’s understanding of the importance of these roles and both the board’s and management’s on-going commitment to reward the entire laboratory workforce fairly and appropriately.”

    According to Hewitt the laboratory is hoping that the increase in its wage scales will help ensure employee retention as well as assist in attracting and hiring committed new employees as the laboratory grows and prospers. Many other facilities across the US have put this model into motion, realizing retention is a huge benefit to company growth and having a stable happy workforce increases productivity.

    The ripple effect in communities where the labs employees live will palpably help local economies. “Business are recognizing that raising wages is in fact good for business,” said the Former Bangor Mayor and current Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci.

    The Jackson Laboratory received many grants funded by voter-approved bonds during the Baldacci administration, which allowed the non-profit research laboratory to expand and increase their research and development. After the initial Maine grants, federal awards followed.

    This November Mainers will be given a chance to increase the state’s minimum wage. The Mainers for Fair Wages citizens’ initiative would raise Maine’s minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the tipped minimum wage, until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

    Maine’s current minimum wage is $7.50 compared to the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Governor John E. Baldacci was the last governor to increase it.

    The Economic Policy Institute estimates that gradually increasing the wage to $12 per hour would give over 120,000 Maine workers—more than a fifth of the state’s workforce—a raise.    

    Jackson Laboratory plans to shift all of its East Coast mouse production operations to the former Lowe’s building in Ellsworth by 2018. It is expected the Ellsworth facility will employ 230 workers, and three-quarters of those will be new hires with the rest relocating from working in Bar Harbor.

  • Maine's ballot order of referendum questions for Nov. 2016



    The ballot order of the five citizens’ initiative questions that will appear on the Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 Referendum Election ballot is now finalized, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced Monday.

    The order of these citizens’ initiative questions on the ballot was determined by a random drawing Monday morning, which was open to the public. Below is the order of the initiatives, as they will appear on the ballot:

     

    QUESTION 1: An Act To Legalize Marijuana. “Do you want to allow the possession and use of marijuana under state law by persons who are at least 21 years of age, and allow the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?”

     

    QUESTION 2: An Act To Establish The Fund to Advance Public Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education. “Do you want to add a 3% tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to create a state fund that would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education?”

     

    QUESTION 3: An Act to Require Background Checks for Gun Sales. “Do you want to require background checks prior to the sale or transfer of firearms between individuals not licensed as firearms dealers, with failure to do so punishable by law, and with some exceptions for family members, hunting, self-defense, lawful competitions, and shooting range activity?”

     

    QUESTION 4: An Act to Raise the Minimum Wage. “Do you want to raise the minimum hourly wage of $7.50 to $9 in 2017, with annual $1 increases up to $12 in 2020, and annual cost-of-living increases thereafter; and do you want to raise the direct wage for service workers who receive tips from half the minimum wage to $5 in 2017, with annual $1 increases until it reaches the adjusted minimum wage?”

     

    QUESTION 5: An Act To Establish Ranked-Choice Voting. “Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?”


    The full text of each proposed bill is available for viewing on the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions’ Citizens’ Initiatives webpage, along with proponent information. Per Maine law, bond issues must appear after the citizens’ initiatives on the ballot. One bond issue will be on the Nov. 8, 2016 ballot:

    • An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Improve Highways, Bridges and Multimodal Facilities. "Do you favor a $100,000,000 bond issue for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities, equipment and property acquisition related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds?"

    For more information about the November 2016 elections, visit http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/upcoming/index.html.  Information on voter registration and locating your polling place can also be found on the Corporations, Elections and Commissions website.

  • LePage threatens to stop food stamps for over 200,000 Mainers

    Part of LePage's letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

    By Ramona du Houx

    Just when you think Gov. Paul LePage can’t stoop any lower with his attacks on working people that need food stamps (SNAP) to augment their minimum wage salaries, he pulled this. LePage wants to abolish Maine’s food stamp program, which is funded by the United States Federal Government, by ending the state's administration of the program. 

    "We are literally talking about taking the food off the table of Maine families struggling to make ends meet," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "SNAP is a program funded by the federal government but the law is clear—it's up to the states to run it.  If Maine were to pull out of SNAP, then Maine people would not have access to it. Families that depend on SNAP—seniors, children, veterans—would go hungry.  This is not how we treat each other in Maine."

    LePage wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack informing him that if the USDA won’t allow Maine to restrict food stamps from being used to purchase sugary foods and drinks, he’ll do it anyway or withdraw from the food stamp program altogether.

    “It’s time for the federal government to wake up and smell the energy drinks,” wrote LePage. “Doubtful that it will, I will be pursuing options to implement reforms unilaterally or cease Maine’s administration of the food stamp program altogether.”

    According to Bennett, the state asked the federal government for a waiver so it could create a pilot program that wouldn’t allow food stamps to be used for the purchase of “junk food.” That waiver request was denied.

    “This latest temper tantrum threatens to punish the very people it purports to help. I’d ask the governor this: How does taking food off the tables of hungry Maine families support healthy eating habits?” said Sen. Justin Alfond.

     “The governor is free to pick as many political fights with the federal government, the Legislature and other perceived rivals as he wants. But he shouldn’t use real Maine families, dealing with real hunger, as props in his political theater."

    Approximately 200,000 Mainers receive food stamps, down from a high of more than 250,000 in 2012.

    “Threatening to eliminate this vital program scares seniors and other SNAP recipients who, undoubtedly, are some of the most at-risk individuals in the state of Maine,” stated Amy Gallant, AARP Maine Advocacy Director.

    Maine seniors are disproportionately impacted by limited access to adequate nutrition. Feeding America, a nationwide non-profit network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, predicts a 50% increase in the number of seniors facing hunger in Maine by 2025. The sharpest increase in food insecurity is found among older Mainers living just above the poverty line. Many have a disability, live alone, are divorced, or unemployed.

    The number of Maine seniors who rely on the Food Supplement Program increased statewide by 32% in the past five years. Nearly 70% of older Mainers who are eligible for SNAP are not currently enrolled. “Older Mainers are reluctant to utilize this program because of stigma,” said Gallant.  “Political rhetoric such as threatening to eliminate the program pushes people away. Mainers are proud and independent people, and find it hard enough to ask for help when times get tough. That’s why so many Maine seniors who could benefit from SNAP do not apply.”

    SNAP continues to be the primary and best defense against hunger. If SNAP were to be reduced or eliminated in Maine, the already long wait list for Meals on Wheels would drastically and unsustainably increase.  Food pantries would not be able to meet the increasing need in their communities. “Mainers would be forced to choose between food, fuel, medicine and other essential costs,” said Gallant, “Many seniors would simply go without.”

  • Over 1,200 come together for National Monument meeting in Orono, Maine

     Wearing pro-national monument T-shirts, hats and stickers, hundreds of supporters of a proposal to create a new national monument in Maine packed the Collins Center at the University of Maine for a public input session.

    US Sen. Angus King hosted the meeting, which included National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, who came Maine to learn more about the proposed national monument and to hear from Mainers.

    Some supporters of the Monument designation rode buses from Portland and Augusta to the meeting. They said that the area would finally put on an international stage, draw thousands of tourists and create more jobs in a Katahdin region that needs them.

    “We’re deeply gratified by the hundreds of people who came to Orono to offer their support for the proposal to create a new national monument,” said Lucas St. Clair, the president of Elliotsville Plantation. “It was great to see so many faces from the Katahdin region in the crowd and to see new faces from every corner of Maine speak in favor of the idea.”

    The proposal, which could be an interim step to the creation of a new national park and national recreation area in the Katahdin region, includes permanent protection for traditional outdoor activities and represents a $100 million investment in the Katahdin region.

    “It is printing money. It is bringing economic development, jobs and money to this region,” said Bangor City Council Chairman Sean Faircloth. He cited three national monuments across the U.S. that had created more than 1,500 jobs. He said placing the monument designation on the 87,500-acre Quimby parcel east of Baxter State Park would create “a tremendous economic boon.”

    A recent independent study found that 10 of the national monuments designated by President Obama have generated more than $156 million in local economic activity annually, supporting more than 1,800 jobs. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 3.9 million people visited the newly designated monuments included in the study.

    The National Park Service reports that Acadia National Park attracted more than 2.5 million visitors in 2014, generating $271 million in local economic output and about 3,500 jobs. Visitation to Acadia increased to 2.8 million visitors in 2015.

    For more information, visit: http://mainewoodsnationalmonument.org

    Attendance at the event was estimated at more than 1,200 people, with the vast majority in support of the national monument designation.

    Elliotsville Plantation the non-profit foundation that has proposed donating 87,500 acres to create the new national monument in the Katahdin region. In addition, the foundation will create a $40 million endowment to support ongoing operations and maintenance at the monument, which would be managed by the National Park Service.

  • Gov. LePage admits he does not know what Maine’s minimum wage is

    A minimum wage spaghetti dinner hosted by John and Joe Baldacci is Augusta, Maine's Capitol city. photos by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Democratic Party (MDP) Chairman Phil Bartlett today called out Gov. Paul LePage for the governor’s admission that he did know Maine’s minimum wage because he did not know anyone earning it.

    The Portland Press Herald reported yesterday that at two recent town halls, Gov. LePage stated that Maine’s minimum wage, which is $7.50 per hour, was $7.65.

    MDP Phill Bartlett at the Baldacci's Spaghetti Dinner to raise the minimum wage in Augusta held May 11th. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    "The minimum wage right now is $7.50 or $7.65. Whatever the rate is, I’m not even sure because quite frankly I don’t know of anybody that, personally, is working the minimum wage,” said Gov. LePage.

    The last Maine Governor to raise the minimum wage was John E. Baldacci.

    “Gov. LePage has not only vetoed legislation (8 times) to raise Maine’s minimum wage, he’s ridiculed restaurant workers who receive it. Now Gov. LePage blatantly admits that he doesn’t even know what the minimum wage is because he doesn’t know anyone in a minimum wage job” said MDP Chairman Bartlett. 

    Maine’s current minimum wage forces far too many families onto welfare rolls, and the need for federally subsidized healthcare. Someone working 40 hours a week at the minimum wage of $7.50, would earn $300 each week—or approximately $15,600 every year—well below the federal poverty line for families of two or more.

    Up until the early 1980s, an annual minimum-wage income—after adjusting for inflation—was enough to keep a family of two above the poverty line. At its high point in 1968, the minimum wage was high enough for a family of three to be above the poverty line with the earnings of a full-time minimum-wage worker. The falling minimum wage has led to poverty and inequality.

    “Historically low wages are being paid because that is what the inadequate law—which doesn't increase at the same rate as the cost of living—says workers can be paid. This out-of-date law undervalues the hard work of too many people. Nobody working a 40 hour week should live in poverty,” said Former Governor John Baldacci. “We hope our dinner helped generate support for a statewide minimum wage increase.”

    A ballot measure that would raise Maine’s minimum wage will be decided this Novemeber by the people of Maine. If passed it would increase the minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that the wage would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

    "This governor is astonishingly out-of-touch with the 1.3 million people he was elected to serve. I challenge Gov. LePage to introduce himself to the next person who prepares his food, or rings up his purchase, or mops a floor he walks on. He may be surprised to learn just how quickly he can meet someone who is earning the minimum wage,” challenged MDP Chairman Bartlett.

    At the federal level President Barack Obama has been pushing for an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10. His focus on the issue has spurred states to take action, and he mandated federal workers must have the $10.10 minimum. But the majority of Republicans in Congress have consistently stopped any action to increase the minimum wage.

    In 2013, Poliquin opposed raising the minimum wage in Maine to $9 an hour, claiming that the only minimum wage workers were teenagers living at home who don’t need more money.

    "I'm proud to have voted multiple times to raise the minimum wage and stand up for our neighbors and friends who are struggling to take care of their families," said Emily Cain, who is running for Congress in the 2nd District. Cain served in the Maine State House and Senate.

    “Congressman Poliquin not only opposes raising the minimum wage but voted to strip minimum wage protections from construction workers receiving federal money. We deserve a member of Congress who will stand up for working Mainers, not for Wall Street.”

    Current law, The Davis-Bacon Act, requires that workers on federally funded construction projects be paid the prevailing wage in whichever jurisdiction a construction project is taking place. Essentially, it prohibits companies using federal money from scamming their workers by not paying the wages required by local law. Twice in 2015, Poliquin voted for amendments that would prohibit the enforcement of this requirement.

    RIGHT: Former State Rep. Emily Cain at work in Augusta. photo by Ramona du Houx

    Six months after the minimum wage in Seattle, Washington jumped to $11 an hour—on its way to $15—the restaurant industry has continued to boom, despite dire predictions.

    Raising the state minimum wage would directly affect more than 130,000 low-wage workers in Maine, most of them women and many of them are supporting families, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute.

    The EPI estimates that gradually increasing the wage to $12 per hour would give over 120,000 Maine workers—more than a fifth of the state’s workforce—a raise.

    EPI calculates a $12 minimum wage would mean: 

    • 60 percent of the workers who would be affected are women.
    • 85 percent are over the age of 20.
    • 75 percent work in service, sales, and office and administrative support occupations.
    • 75 percent work in: retail, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality.
    • 40,000 children have at least one parent who would get a raise from this change.

  • Gov. John Baldacci and City Councilor Joe Baldacci to host Pro-Minimum Wage Spaghetti Dinner in Augusta

     

    Proceeds to help feed needy children in the area and their families

     By Ramona du Houx

    Former Governor John Baldacci and Former Bangor Mayor and City Councilor Joe Baldacci will host a spaghetti supper to highlight why the minimum wage should be increased. The dinner will be held at Cony High School, 60 Pierce Drive, Augusta on May 11th, from 5:30-7:30. And it’s only $5 per person!

    “These spaghetti dinners have always been a great opportunity to bring the community together for a family dinner that encourages discussion and unity on important working class issues,” said Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci. 

    The Baldacci brothers will be cooking the spaghetti sauce from their family’s secret recipe that became famous at Momma Baldacci’s, the former family restaurant of Bangor. The two-term governor, along with his brother will be serving the meal.

    “Our dinners have become a family tradition, one where we’re proud to help out when and where we can,” said Governor John Baldacci.

    Gov. John Baldacci serves up the famous Baldacci spaghetti at a charity dinner. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Proceeds will go to the Augusta Food Bank to benefit needy children in the area and their families.

    Augusta City Councilors Dale McCormick, Linda Conti, and Anna Douglass Blodgett are graciously co-hosting the event.

    Speakers from the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the Maine People's Alliance, the Maine Democratic Party, other political leaders and concerned citizens will address the dire economic situation faced by low income Mainers and the need for action to increase the minimum wage. According to the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI) the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is worth $2 less today than it was in 1968 when adjusted for inflation.

    Maine’s minimum wage is currently $7.50 an hour, increased during Baldacci administration in 2009. All efforts to raise the minimum wage at the state level since then have been defeated by Governor Paul LePage.

    Maine’s current minimum wage forces far too many families onto welfare rolls, and the need for federally subsidized healthcare. Someone working 40 hours a week at the minimum wage of $7.50, would earn $300 each week—or approximately $15,600 every year—well below the federal poverty line for families of two or more.

    Up until the early 1980s, an annual minimum-wage income—after adjusting for inflation—was enough to keep a family of two above the poverty line. At its high point in 1968, the minimum wage was high enough for a family of three to be above the poverty line with the earnings of a full-time minimum-wage worker. The falling minimum wage has led to poverty and inequality.

    “Historically low wages are being paid because that is what the inadequate law—which doesn't increase at the same rate as the cost of living—says workers can be paid. This out-of-date law undervalues the hard work of too many people. Nobody working a 40 hour week should live in poverty,” said Governor John Baldacci. “We hope this dinner will help generate support for a statewide minimum wage increase.”

    An Alliance for a Just Society estimates that $15.82 an hour would be a livable wage. 

    Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition including the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO, launched a successful petition process for a citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage in June of 2015. The initiative will be on the ballot this November. If passed it would increase the minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that the wage would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

    Six months after the minimum wage in Seattle, Washington jumped to $11 an hour—on its way to $15—the restaurant industry has continued to boom, despite dire predictions.

    Raising the state minimum wage would directly affect more than 130,000 low-wage workers in Maine, most of them women and many of them are supporting families, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute.

    The EPI estimates that gradually increasing the wage to $12 per hour would give over 120,000 Maine workers—more than a fifth of the state’s workforce—a raise.

    EPI calculates a $12 minimum wage would mean: 

    • 60 percent of the workers who would be affected are women.
    • 85 percent are over the age of 20.
    • 75 percent work in service, sales, and office and administrative support occupations.
    • 75 percent work in: retail, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality.
    • 40,000 children have at least one parent who would get a raise from this change. 

    For years the Baldacci family ran an Italian restaurant in Bangor. Its last incarnation was Momma Baldacci’s and it became a meeting place known for its food, conversation, and community atmosphere. To highlight and help issues in the community and around the sate the Baldacci’s started charity spaghetti dinners.

    For more information please go RaiseMEwage.  https://raisemewage.wordpress.com/

  • Nobody Should be Working Full-Time and Still Live in Poverty

    Editorial by Mark Eves, the Maine Speaker of the House

    On Wednesday, May 11, I’m looking forward to joining the Baldacci family as they host a spaghetti supper in support of raising the minimum wage. The dinner, at $5 per person, will be held 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Cony High School, 60 Pierce Drive, in Augusta.

    The dinner is focused on why raising the minimum wage is so important for our state, and I want to take a minute to share why I’ll be supporting the minimum wage referendum on this year’s ballot.

    Like so many Mainers, my wife and I worry about how to make ends meet. We worry how we’ll balance our car payments and grocery bills with the hopes of sending our three kids to college and whether we’ll actually be able to care for our parents as they get older.

    And just like our neighbors, we’re willing to work hard to make up the gaps. Mainers don’t want things handed to us. We just want providing for our families and saving for our kids’ future to be a little less difficult.

    No Mainer should be working full time and still live in poverty.

    Yet that’s the reality for too many families that depend on a minimum wage salary.

    Despite rising costs for basic needs, our state’s minimum wage has remained at $7.50 an hour since 2009.

    Maine’s economic future depends on the strength of our workforce, the ability of our families to invest in their children, and the success of our businesses.

    Raising the minimum wage in Maine is a critically important and long overdue move, both for families struggling to get by on low wages and our lagging economy. By putting money back into the pockets of Mainers who will spend it in their communities we can jump start our businesses, help reduce poverty, and begin to keep pace with other states who continue to get ahead.

    In November voters will decide on a referendum that would raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour in 2017 and then a dollar a year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020. Further increases would be tied to the cost of living, and the current subminimum wage for employees such as restaurant workers who receive tips would be phased out over a longer period of time.

    Almost 100,000 full-time workers in Maine would directly benefit from an increase in Maine’s minimum wage. Overall, 29 percent of all workers in our state would see an increase. And, more than 52,000 Maine children would benefit from one or both parents getting a raise.

    I’ve heard countless stories from Mainers, including parents like Katie Logue of Auburn, who work full time at low-wage jobs and struggle to afford the basic necessities that they need to provide for their families. Katie had to rely on food assistance and was even homeless despite working full time at a convenience store for $8 an hour.

    Beyond ensuring people like Katie are finally paid what they are worth, it’s the right thing to do to make sure every Mainer can bring a paycheck home that makes it possible to provide for their family.

    Raising the minimum wage is also the smart thing to do for Maine’s businesses statewide.

    Hundreds of business owners, such as Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls, have already come out in support of raising Maine’s minimum wage.

    Adam was right when he said, “When working Mainers make a decent living, they spend that extra money in our communities. It is good for the whole economy, including my business. In the last year and a half, Lee Auto Mall has raised our starting wage from $9 to $10 and six months ago we raised it to $11 per hour. It is good for our employees and it is the right thing to do.”

    Maine desperately needs this economic growth at a time when our businesses continue to struggle with regional, national and international competition.

    This legislative session we raised wages for law enforcement officers serving on the front lines and mental health and direct-care workers who take care of our most vulnerable.

    Hard-working Maine families also deserve a raise.

    Raising Maine’s minimum wage is the right thing to do for our families, our businesses, and our economy.

    By Mark Eves, the Maine Speaker of the House

  • Opportunity lost as GOP thwarts job-creating solar energy bill


    • Editorial by Sen. Dawn Hill
      It’s not every day that Maine has an opportunity to take the lead in a growing industry, create and sustain jobs for its people, lower energy costs and fight climate change.
      We seized that opportunity in 2008, when the Legislature passed changes to the Wind Energy Act that paved the way for the development of wind farms in our state. The wind industry invested more than half a billion dollars in Maine’s economy since then, and has created more than 1,500 jobs, according to a 2015 report by former state economist Charles Colgan.
      Today, there are more than 200 wind turbines constructed or under contract across Maine. By 2020, they will have cut carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to taking more than 400,000 cars off the road.
      But thanks to Gov. Paul LePage, Maine has lost the opportunity to recreate the success of the Wind Energy Act by renewing our state’s commitment to to clean, renewable solar energy.
      LePage vetoed LD 1649 — a proposal that had the backing of utility companies, industry groups, Maine towns and cities and regular people all over the state. Unfortunately, 50 Republicans in the House and another 16 in the Senate stood by his side to kill the bill.
      LD 1649 would have grown our state’s solar energy portfolio, reduced ratepayers’ electrical costs, and provided jobs for Mainers to build our clean energy future one panel at a time.
      The bill would have led to the creation of roughly 200 megawatts of solar energy in Maine over the next four years, a more than tenfold increase over current levels. That’s enough clean, renewable energy to power more than 32,000 homes.
      It would have ramped up solar development at all levels, from home rooftops to large, grid-scale solar farms. It would have torn down the regulatory barriers that currently block community solar, allowing groups of people to band together to reduce their energy footprint in ways they could never do alone.
      Gov. LePage said he vetoed the bill in part because it would have increased energy costs. In the short term, that may be true. It’s estimated that the average homeowner could see a short-term increase in their electric bill of about 42 cents per month. But in the long term, the bill would have saved ratepayers between $58 million and $110 million.
      This bill made good business sense. Even people who don’t want to put solar panels on their own homes would have reaped the economic benefits of this investment in new technology and jobs. So I’m disappointed that Gov. LePage and his allies in Augusta thwarted Maine’s chance to once again take the lead on renewable energy production and jobs.
      But I can’t say I’m surprised.
      After all, it was just three years ago that political maneuvering and brinksmanship by Gov. LePage scared away StatOil, an international leader in clean energy development that wanted to invest $120 million in our state during the planning and construction of offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine. That investment would have grown by $4 million annually after the turbines were built.
      I don’t need to tell you that would have meant a lot of jobs for hardworking Maine men and women. After LePage pulled the rug out from under StatOil, the company decided to invest overseas instead. Mainers lost out. Big time.
      Mainers overwhelmingly favor policies that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and it’s easy to see why. Our state’s heritage and identity are inexorably linked to our pristine environment and traditional resource-based economy — all of which are threatened by climate change. They also want their elected officials to advocate for jobs in growing industries. And, yes, they want their energy costs to go down.
      The solar bill could have met all those goals. You can bet we’ll be back at this again when the new Legislature begins next year. We can’t let Gov. LePage continue to block progress for the state of Maine.
      District 35 Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, serving York, South Berwick, Ogunquit, Kittery, Eliot and part  of Berwick, is the assistant Democratic leader in the Maine Senate.
  • Maine's Andross Mill in Brunswick to have solar panels installed

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Village Review Board of Brunswick has approved a proposed 160-panel solar array that will grace the roof top of Fort Andross Mill.

     ReVision Energy will start to install the 40-kilowatt solar array, which has a price tag of $127,000, by the end of June.

    Dan Jacques said the catalyst of the solar project came from the lease agreement between Waterfront Maine and one of its major tenants-the Nature Conservancy of Maine.

    "Waterfront agreed to finance the project entirely on their own, and then sell us the electricity … through the lease agreement," said Nature Conservancy Associate State Director Tom Rumpf. "It gives us the ability to have a clean energy source, and we're trying to demonstrate a new potential model for leasees to discuss with their landlord."

    In addition to the solar panels project, Waterfront Maine will also be installing a charging station for electrical vehicles in the mill's parking lot.

    Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, now has the largest solar array in the state. Freeport, just up the road has a community solar project helping residents save.

    Dispite Gov. LePage's veto that killed the potential of adding 600 more jobs in the solar industry in the state, federal tax credits continue to help the industry grow in Maine.

  • Maine solar power bill sails through legislature, now on way to Gov. LePage for signature

    By Ramona du Houx

    When An Act to Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy becomes law it will sustain 300 jobs that already exist in Maine’s solar industry and create 650 to 800 new jobs. This solar energy bill will also increase the state’s utilization of clean, renewable solar energy, and lower electric rates.

    “LD 1649 has the potential to add an additional 800 new, good-paying jobs across the state,” said Chuck Piper, co-owner of Sundog Solar of Searsport. “One of the many great things about the solar bill is we can create these new jobs without any additional expense to the citizens of Maine.”

    The groundbreaking law has been the result of stakeholders working together over many months, including Maine’s Public Advocate-whose job mandates he looks out for ratepayer interests, and representatives from Maine’s solar industry, utility companies, municipalities, Maine conservation groups, and legislators.

    Maine is currently last in the region in solar development and job creation because of antiquated policies. “This bill will make Maine a leader in solar energy policy and create hundreds of jobs for Maine people, who will build our clean energy future one panel at a time,” said Sen. Dawn Hill, lead Senate Democrat on the Legislature’s Energy Committee.

    LD 1649 modernizes parts of Maine’s utility policy that created unfair barriers to towns, cities, businesses, and communities going solar, and ensures solar producers are reimbursed fairly for the power they produce and sell to the electric grid.

    The law ensures municipalities, neighborhoods and other groups of individuals the right to band together for solar production — allowing regular people to “go green” together, even if they can’t do it alone. 

    “Solar is an opportunity to marry emerging technology with economic development at the local level,” said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chair of the committee. “Solar is going to be an energy technology that will both serve us now and into the 22nd century.” 

    Community solar projects are on the rise across the USA and in Maine. The most recent community project is in Freeport, where ReVison Maine worked with residents and the town to make it happen.

    The bill was amended before it passed the Senate unanimously. 

    As amended by Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, the bill adds 196 megawatts of solar power to the state’s energy portfolio over four years. The amendment also introduced additional protections for ratepayers.

    The bill is estimated to create between $58 million and $110 million in ratepayer savings.

    The bill is on it's way to Governor LePage's desk to be approved or vetoed.

  • USDA seeks applications for rural Maine community economic development projects

    Through the USDA’s Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) program $290,000 is now available for business development projects in Maine’s rural communities.

    “The RBDG program helps provide rural areas of the state with additional means for pursuing diverse economic development opportunities, which can lead to job creation and the strengthening of local economies,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

     Eligible applicants include public bodies, nonprofit corporations, and Native American tribes, who can utilize these funds for the benefit of private, small business enterprises in the communities that they serve.  Project types can range from real property development and equipment acquisition, to technical assistance, planning and training, to revolving loan fund capitalization.

     The grant award process is competitive, and priorities are established for: leveraging other resources, areas of economic distress, lower populations, higher unemployment, lower incomes, experience of the applicant, small business start-up or expansion, job creation, and supporting agency initiatives.  Projects that support strategic multi-jurisdictional development, the bioeconomy, local and regional food systems, renewable energy, and high-poverty areas are typically looked upon very favorably. 

    Grant awards are also generally under $100,000 each.

     All areas of the state are considered rural and eligible for this program, with the exceptions of Portland and surrounding parts of Falmouth, Westbrook, Scarborough, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.

     Applications for the RBDG program are due by May 2, 2016. For questions or more information on how to apply, please contact Rural Development Business Programs Specialist Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov.

     

        

     

  • USDA approves $13 million in Bonus Buy of Maine Wild Blueberries after Congressional delegation’s ask

     Maine's Congressional Delegation announced the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will grant up to $13 million for a purchase of up to 30 million pounds of Maine wild blueberries after the Delegation requested the measure earlier this year.  Bonus buys, like this, help protect American farmers from unexpected market conditions by purchasing surplus goods and distributing them to food banks and other charitable institutions.

     
    “We are pleased to announce this important relief for our Maine blueberry growers who have suffered from an oversupply of their produce this season,” wrote Maine’s Congressional Delegation (Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin) in a joint statement. “Our growers have been faced with declining prices and increased competition because of near-record crop sizes in 2014 and 2015.  This is welcome support for our industry in Maine, which provides for more than 3,000 jobs in its peak harvest season.”
     
     

    The money used for surplus removal will be taken from the $222 million that has already been appropriated for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program in Fiscal Year 2016.  This program supports the emergency surplus removals of commodities, which are then distributed to domestic food assistance programs.
     

  • Maine's proposed $3 Million Bond to Study Ocean Acidification still under consideration by lawmakers

    A short animation about the potential impact of ocean acidification on sea life in the Gulf of Maine. Produced with support from Maine Sea Grant, Dalhousie University, MEOPAR (Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network), NERACOOS (The Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems) and NECAN (Northeast Coastal Acidification Network). 

    By Ramona du Houx 

    The Maine Legislature is still considering a bond proposal aimed at addressing ocean acidification (OA) in the Gulf of Maine. LD 998, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Parry (R-Arundel) and Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), would ask voters to approve a bond to borrow $3 million to be used to collect data, monitor waterways and test ocean acidity along the Maine coast and study its impact on wildlife and commercial shellfish species. 

    “Maine faces a tremendous, fast-evolving environmental challenge,” said Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association and member of FocusMaine, in testimony last June. “The implications of ocean acidification are only beginning to be understood, but one thing is clear, unless we have the tools to accurately monitor ocean acidification trends, we will be unable to react in terms of management and policy decisions.”

    There is virtual consensus among scientists that about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels and deforestation ends up in the oceans. “There is no argument about this. This is really simple high school chemistry,” said University of New Hampshire OA expert Joe Salisbury.

    As the C02 gets absorbed into the ocean it reacts with seawater to form corrosive carbonic acid, which reduces the alkalinity of the water and inhibits the formation of the molecule calcium carbonate. Maine's hallmark shellfish like clams, lobsters, mussels, shrimp, scallops, oysters and sea urchins use calcium carbonate as the building blocks to form their shells. With fewer calcium carbonate molecules, they have to spend more energy for shell production, which hinders their ability to grow. If the water gets too acidic, it can even dissolve shells. 

    This could devastate Maine's shellfish industry which is a huge part of the state's tourism industry.

    Under ordinary circumstances, the ocean can naturally buffer excess C02. But ever since the Industrial Revolution, humans have emitted so much carbon dioxide into the air and water that chemical changes are happening much faster than at any time during the past 200,000 years.

    The Gulf of Maine's uniqueness also unveils it's inherent weakness to the effects of rapid OA.

    "The northwestern Atlantic, where we live, is particularly sensitive to OA, and it could change really quickly based on water mass changes and we really need to know a lot more,” said Salisbury.

    The Gulf of Maine is particularly susceptible to acidification because it receives so much fresh water from the region’s many large rivers, as well as cold, fresh water from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and snow and ice melt from the Arctic via the Labrador Current. While the region’s complex flow of water delivers some of the best shell fish on the planet the flow also compounds the acidifying effect because carbon dioxide is more soluble in cold water and fresh water has lower concentrations of carbonate and calcium ions. 

    If the saturation state of calcium carbonate, which is typically 2-5 in the global ocean, goes below 1.6, it can have a detrimental effect on shellfish, especially during their larval stages. 

    “Hatcheries are definitely the canaries in the coal mine,” said Bill Mook, who owns Mook Sea Farm in Walpole. “The window of conditions that are going to be sufficient for natural bivalve larvae is going to continue to close and you’re going to see less predictable recruitment. And that’s what you’re seeing in a lot of places.” 

    Mook hopes Maine law makers will be able to take a proactive approach to the problem and look at how OA impacts the entire Gulf of Maine ecosystem rather than just individual species.

    “We need to demand that the government spends more money in establishing monitoring systems and doing the thoughtful, correct research that’s going to provide businesses like mine with enough information so that we can do a little more planning and come up with strategies to cope with all of this. We can’t avert crises if we don’t know about them and information is really key to our survival.”

  • Pingree uses her Appropriations Committee position to get programs that benefit veterans and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

     

    Committee approves Pingree requests for $75 million in spending for PNSY and directs VA to improve health care and homeless services for vets 

    Photo of US Congresswoman Chellie Piengree, by Ramona du Houx

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree used her position on the powerful House Appropriations Committee to get numerous provisions into a defense bill that will help veterans, including those seeking care in the VA, homeless female veterans, veterans who need service dogs and the families of veterans.  Pingree also was able to insure that the bill contains $75 million in funding to maintain and modernize the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

    "The men and women who have put on a uniform and served this country deserve the best health care available and the right kind of support when they make the transition back to civilian life.  But the sad truth is they don't always get that," Pingree said.  "We need to keep pushing the VA to improve programs like VA Choice and provide services to homeless vets and vets who are risk of becoming homeless."

    Pingree was able to insert language into the FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act to direct the VA to provide equal treatment and assistance to homeless female veterans and their children, to hire outside contractors to improve access to the VA Choice program in underserved areas and to expand research into the use of service dogs to treat veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

     Pingree also used her position on the Committee to secure funding for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

    "The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is one of the most efficient and best run in the country. They maintain the highest standards and stay on budget and on schedule.  But to remain competitive and to protect the jobs in Kittery, we need to make sure the yard has the resources to modernize and maintain the facilities there," Pingree said. 

    Pingree was able to support the inclusion of over $75 million in the bill, including:

    • $27 million to replace a century-old medical and dental clinic;
    • $30 million to build an electrical substation and improve utilities needed to protect nuclear subs; and
    • $18 million to expand housing to accommodate Naval personnel stationed in Kittery.

    The bill was passed by the House Appropriations Committee today, but still must be taken up by the full House.

  • Maine legislature overrides veto of bill that would allow for new cellphone tower in St. John Valley

     The Maine Legislature on April 11th overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill to improve cellphone reception in Aroostook County by allowing the construction of a new cellphone tower.

    Cell phone and broadband coverage will help grow Maine's economy by attracting people to Maine to do business as well as keeping educated workers in the state. Read more about Broadband in Maine HERE.

    Rep. Roland “Danny” Martin brought forward legislation to amend a state deed to allow the Sinclair Sanitary District to lease land to a telecommunications company. As the deed is currently written, the land cannot be leased to a private company, even if the public benefits.

    “This bill was endorsed by a number of businesses and individuals in our community. I am very pleased that the Maine Legislature came together to override the governor’s veto,” said Martin, D-Sinclair. “A new cellphone tower is critical to our area, not only for economic development but also public safety.”

    The bill, LD 1659, authorizes the Sinclair Sanitary District to lease a portion of that land to Bay Communications II, LLC, to build a commercial cell tower.

    “Building this tower will greatly benefit residents of Aroostook County and bring in much-needed revenue to our area,” said Martin. “Improved cellphone coverage will help local businesses and residents and allow emergency services to function better.”

    A bipartisan group of lawmakers from Aroostook County cosponsored the legislation. Martin’s original bill was folded into legislation brought forward by the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

    The House voted 144-2 and the Senate voted 35-0 to override the veto.

    Martin is House chair of the State and Local Government Committee and also serves on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. He returned to the Maine House, having previously served one term in the House and two in the Senate.

  • $44 Million in USDA grants available to help agricultural producers increase the value of their products-apply!

     

            

    By Ramona du Houx

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on May 11, 2016 that USDA is making up to $44 million available to farmers, ranchers and businesses to develop new bio-based products and expand markets through the Value-Added Producer Grant program. 

    “I strongly encourage rural Maine agricultural producers to apply for this useful program, which can help provide an advantage in marketing or producing a value-added agricultural product. This type of rural Maine innovation leads to job creation and supports the local economy,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel. 


    Aroostock Hops, LLC, (photos) recieved a Value-Added Producer Grant for $24,413. The grant paid for labor costs and to purchase consumable supplies to produce pelletized hops from fresh hops and to package the pellets in nitrogen-flushed, vacuum-sealed, labeled Mylar bags as well as for marketing and promotional expenses.

    "Our natural curiosity about improving hop yield, quality, and best practices in growing hops organically, coupled with both our backgrounds in science, has led us to investigate some of our hop growing questions using an experimental approach.  We figured there must be lots of other hops farmers, especially in the Northeast, who were asking the same questions as us and would like to know about some of the things we were investigating.

    "Over the years, we have been fortunate to work with a USDA program called Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), which provides grants and education to advance innovations in sustainable agriculture," states Aroostock Hops on their website.

    The USDA grant helped Aroostock Hops partner with the University of Maine, and receive a Maine Technology (MTI) Seed Grant to fabricate a prototype hop harvester. 

    The extra cash needed to turn a creative idea into a marketable product is where a lot of USDA grants have come into play in Maine.

    Agriculture is one of the identified areas FocusMaine— a group of over 50 Maine stakeholders who are dedicated to help grow jobs and the state’s economy.

    "Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote ,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz.

    Secretary Vilsack describes the cultivation of local and regional food systems as one of the four pillars of rural economic development that impacts farm family income and strengthens local economies. 

    “America’s farmers, ranchers and rural business owners are innovative entrepreneurs and this program helps them grow economic opportunities for their families and communities by increasing the value of the items they produce,” said  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Value-Added Producer Grant program has a great track record of helping producers increase the value of products and expand their markets and customer base, strengthening rural America in the process.”

    Another example of a Maine Value-Added Producer Grant Program award in Cara Sammons, Flying Goat Farm in Acton (photo right). Their grant of $125,000 were be used to pay for packaging materials, labor costs and marketing expenses associated with increasing production as well as hiring personnel to do routine tasks such as cheese room cleaning, packaging, making deliveries to established retail outlets and restaurants, selling cheese at farmers markets, and bookkeeping.

    Value-Added Producer Grants may be used to develop new products and create additional uses for existing ones. Priority for these grants is given to veterans, members of socially disadvantaged groups, beginning farmers and ranchers, and operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches. Additional priority is given to applicants who seek funding for projects that will create or increase marketing opportunities for these types of operators.

    • More information on how to apply is on page 20607 of the April 8th Federal Register.
    • The deadline to submit paper applications is July 1, 2016.
    • Electronic applications submitted through grants.gov are due June 24, 2016. 

    For questions or more information on how to apply, please contact Rural Development Business Programs Specialist Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov.

    Value Added cheese produced by Flying Goat Farm

    Value-Added Producer Grants are a key element of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work to develop local and regional food systems.

    Under Secretary Vilsack, USDA has supported providing consumers a stronger connection to their food with more than $1 billion in investments to over 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects since between 2009.

    Industry data estimates that U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008. 

    Congress increased funding for the Value-Added program in the 2014 Farm Bill, with the help of Congresswoman Chillie Pingree. That law builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.  

    Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 180,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses.

     USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. 

  • FocusMaine—aims to grow jobs and the economy using Maine’s identified strengths

    By Ramona du Houx

    More than 50 leading figures in Maine’s business, academic and political circles have become committed to ending the state’s economic stagnation. Their group, FocusMaine, aims to work with three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years across the state.

    After FocusMaine concluded it’s first project, a $100,000 survey of Maine’s economic landscape by global research firm McKinsey & Co., the consortium announced the group’s objectives to the press.

    “We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s let the data drive the process and be the decision maker,’” said Mike Dubyak, chairman of the board of directors for WEX and its former president and CEO.

    “FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz with Dubyak.

    The survey identified three key sectors where jobs would grow exponentially, raising incomes and the quality of life for all of Maine.

    Salmon in a DownEast hatchery. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In aquaculture U.S. fish consumption has risen by 23 percent since 1990, and we import almost 90 percent of select fish products, most of which are farm raised. Maine has many small aquaculture operations; some who don’t want to get any bigger, while others do but they’ll need to build connections with businesses, gain advice and even get to know potential investors. FocusMaine could become the bridge that would connect Maine’s entrepreneurs with the expertise and people they need to know.

    The same could be said for the agriculture sector that has had an influx of young organic famers, but lack connections that could help their operations flourish. The number of farmers aged 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, during the same time there was an increase in 1,326 agricultural jobs—during the recession, while other jobs declined.

    There has been 10 percent annual growth in pharmaceutical contract research and manufacturing from 2005 to 2011 in Maine. As a strong biopharmaceutical cluster in Massachusetts continues to expand and their Boston based will need more affordable locations for manufacturing, and Maine fits the bill.

    Dubyak has been avidly working with Pierce Atwood partner Andrea Cianchette-Maker, co-chairwoman of the FocusMaine leadership team with Dubyak to develop Focus Maine, which has dozens of banks, policy-people, business and education leaders on board with the objective to grow Maine’s economy. FocusMaine’s mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs.

    “We have to develop the high priority strategies and which of those would require or benefit from government support,” said Cianchette-Maker.

    Hence there are teams focused on political, academic and research aspects of developing the 10-year plan. Its government advisory group includes former Gov. John Baldacci and former Gov. John McKernan.

    “I'm very proud to be part of this first class team of job creators. The focus isn't trying to be everything to everybody. We’ll take a few key sectors and become the world's best in those fields — agriculture, aquaculture and the life sciences manufacturing. I believe with more jobs in these sectors it will create a picture that ties all Maine together,” said Former Governor John E. Baldacci.

    The principle leaders of FocusMaine have built smaller organizations into larger ones. Hence they are turning their skills to smaller businesses with the potential to expand. The list of over 50 leading Maine figures on FocuMaine’s website speaks volumes about the seriousness of the group.

    “What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    Before Mills worked for the Obama administration she was put in charge of Baldacci’s efforts to boost Maine’s economy by working with lawmakers, stakeholders and researchers focusing on growing cluster areas identified as having potential. She successful helped kick start the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant program—Cluster Initiative Program (CIP) for collaborative projects that boost Maine’s high-potential technology-intensive clusters. FocusME received a CIP grant with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

    FocusMaine intends to concentrate on aquaculture first, funded in part through that $100,000 MTI grant. FocusMaine, has already raised about $700,000 in grants and contributions from at least 20 Maine companies and nonprofits.

    There are key reasons why FocusMaine has trade sector jobs in their sights—

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly double the average job in the state. In the trade sector, employees tend to stay longer in the company, then workers in lower paying jobs do. Good paying jobs will help keep young educated Maine workers in the state, too often they leave because of lack of employment opportunities.

    The ripple effect from a worker who spends his earnings in his community helps to support 1.6 additional local jobs. 

    “We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought the state well below the national average of 32 percent.

    “This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs. Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs,” MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak.  

    Some major well known FocusMaine leaders:

    • Michael Dubyak, former WEX Inc. president and CEO (co-chair)
    • Andrea Cianchette Maker, partner at Pierce Atwood (co-chair)
    • Eleanor Baker, Baker Newman Noyes co-founder and principal
    • William Caron Jr., president of MaineHealth
    • John Fitzsimmons, former Maine Community College System president
    • Karen Mills, former U.S. Small Business Administration administrator
    • Robert Moore, president and CEO of Dead River Co.
    • William Ryan, former chairman and CEO of TD Banknorth
    • David Shaw, founder and former CEO of Idexx Laboratories Inc.

     

  • Maine lobster forecast says season will begin early

    Photos by Ramona du Houx

    The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) has released its first forecast predicting the timing of the seasonal uptick in Maine lobster landings expected for 2016.  The forecast currently predicts that the season will start 2–3 weeks early.  The forecast will be updated weekly through mid-April, when the predictive power of the tool reaches its peak, and will be available at www.gmri.org/lobster-forecast

    “July 4 is typically considered to be a normal start date for the lobster fishery in Maine,” said Andrew Pershing, GMRI’s Chief Scientific Officer. “If the timing is off by just a few weeks, it can have a major impact throughout the supply chain.” 

    In 2012, warm water temperatures caused Maine lobsters to move inshore and molt earlier than normal, kicking off the high-landings period in the fishery three weeks early. The supply chain was not ready for this influx, leading to lower prices.

    “Participants in the fishery and supply chain have learned from the 2012 experience and devised a number of strategies to cope with an early start,” explains Katherine Mills, GMRI associate research scientist.  “The goal of our forecast is to give people in the industry advanced warning so they can plan ahead for what is shaping up to be a very early season.”  

    GMRI built the forecast model with funding from NASA. It uses historical lobster landings and temperature data from the NERACOOS buoys in the Gulf of Maine to predict the start date for the season. The model currently shows at 55 percent chance that the season will start three weeks early, a 41 percent chance that it will start two weeks early, and a 4 percent chance that it will start one week early.

    The forecast of an early start to the lobster season is due to warm ocean temperatures.  Water temperatures along the coast of Maine are currently running 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (2–3 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal.  While coastal temperatures can fluctuate considerably this time of year, long-range forecast information provided by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center indicates that warm water temperatures are likely to persist into the spring and summer, partly due to the influence of El Niño.  

    GMRI will continue to update the forecast each week through mid-April, as new temperature information comes in.  

  • Maine proposed bill to protect biomass jobs, protect ratepayers wins strong panel support

    Measure provides safety net for vulnerable industries and accountability 

     The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on April 7, 2016 advanced a proposal to prevent the loss of over 1,000 jobs in Maine’s biomass industry while also protecting ratepayers from an increase in their electric bill.

    “This is first and foremost a jobs bill. Maine cannot afford to keep losing good-paying jobs,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “We’re stepping up with a solution that offers a temporary, accountable safety net for our vulnerable biomass industries and the loggers who depend on them without making Mainers foot the bill. We no longer have to make the choice between sending a thousand Mainers home without a paycheck or increasing electric bills for Mainers just trying to get by.”

    LD 1676, An Act To Establish a Process for Procurement of Renewable Resources, as amended by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, is advancing to the full Legislature with a bipartisan vote of 9-3.

    The proposal would fund two-year, 80 megawatt contracts to biomass facilities at an annual cost of no greater than $6.7 million to the Rainy Day Fund. While many on the committee agreed that action was necessary, the funding source for the contracts remained a point of contention. A minority report supported by Republicans seeks to fund the contracts by increasing monthly electric bills for ratepayers, including small businesses and residential customers.

    “We have had five mills close in the last three years and these biomass plants are on the verge of shutting their doors. This is a rainy day in the state of Maine and a rainy day for the forest products industry,” said Dion, House chair of the committee. “It’s time for the Legislature to show leadership by providing relief to our communities, protecting consumers and businesses and saving jobs. This proposal does just that.”

    The new proposal defines biomass generators who produce Maine fibers as the only beneficiaries and further specifies core provisions to establish accountability, including performance measures and an annual review of economic effectiveness. 

    It also includes commonsense protections to ensure that any facility bidding for contracts are operational for at least six months before the contract is awarded.  This was a provision proposed during a work session by Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, R-Hiram.

    According to Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, the biomass industry directly supports nearly 150 jobs and an estimated additional 900 jobs indirectly. It accounts for a quarter of the power supply in Maine.

    The bill faces actions in the House and Senate.

  • Gov. LePage said he will not release voter approved bonds for needed housing

    By Ramona du Houx 

    At a town hall meeting in Orono on April 6,2016 Governor Paul LePage stated that, as long as he is governor, he will not release the Housing Bond funds.

    “AARP Maine is deeply disappointed by the Governor’s statement especially given the thousands of Maine seniors who need affordable housing,” stated Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director.  “At-risk Mainers cannot afford to wait. AARP Maine will continue to work with housing advocates, contractors and developers to ensure Maine people have the housing they need.  We urge the Governor to reconsider his position.” 

    At the Orono town hall meeting, the Governor raised concern that the bonds will only mean profit for developers in Maine. The truth is the bond dollars are to be specifically allocated by the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) and will benifit Mainers who need homes and the communities in which they will be built. These bonds also represent good paying jobs for construction workers.

    The $15 million bond was approved by 69 percent of Maine voters last November, but no progress has been made toward implementing it. In July of last year, the Governor attempted to veto the senior affordable housing bond, LD 1205, but he failed. 

    MSHA has an established process to request proposals to build affordable housing throughout Maine. They have received and spent bond funds on affordable housing, including senior projects, numerous times in the past.

    A number of senior projects throughout Maine, including those in Washington County and Waterville, are prepared to submit proposals as soon as MSHA requests them. On February 16th, the MSHA Board sent a letter to the Governor stating in part, "Before we encourage developers to invest their time and money and before we obligate staff resources to this project, it would be helpful to know if and when you plan to approve the bonds." 

    The Housing Bond will begin to enable more Mainers to age in place by building new, affordable homes for older Mainers and dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of existing homes, some of the oldest in the country.  Right now, 37 percent of those aged 80 and over in Maine pay more than 30 percent of income for housing.

    “Survey after survey shows us that Mainers want to safely age in place, in their own homes and communities,” said Parham.  “The Housing Bond was a bipartisan measure with overwhelming support first from the legislature and then from Maine voters on Election Day.  Contractors and builders are ready to start construction of these homes which represent only a fraction of those that are needed.  Maine cannot afford to wait any longer.”

    For an overall in depth report on the Housing Bond please go HERE.

  • Gov. LePage and his allies push amendments that could damage Maine’s solar industry

    Their Actions Could Cost as Many Jobs as the Madison Mill Closure

    By Ramona du Houx 

    At a State House news conference April 1, 2016 leaders of solar companies across Maine decried the attack on their industry by Governor LePage and his allies, including House Minority Leader Ken Fredette.

    Many Maine’s communities are being torn apart by the loss of mill jobs. Maine’s solar industry could provide opportunities to employ the next generation of blue collar workers. The solar policy bill is projected to create 800-1,000 new jobs in the state without any costs to Maine’s taxpayers and ratepayers.

    Sadie Alley Fereirra of Sun Dog Solar speaks on behalf of jobs and the solar power industry in Maine at the press conference. Sadie holds a degree in Power Engineering Technology from Maine Maritime Academy

    "At a time when Maine's economy desperately needs jobs, we should be embracing and supporting Maine businesses, not trying to run them out of business,” said Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Insource Renewables of Pittsfield, chair of MABEP’s Committee on Renewable Energy (CORE). 

    “Instead of removing barriers to ensure fair treatment of ratepayers, solar power generators, and utility monopolies, the actions of the governor and his supporters threaten to kill our industry. If legislators can move past the governor's rhetoric to support a bipartisan agreement to benefit ratepayers and Maine's economy, the additional jobs across Maine would be enough to fill several mills." 

    In the wake of the creation of a landmark consensus on a solar bill that would create 800 jobs, save all ratepayers money, and move Maine out of last place in the region for solar, Governor LePage and his allies have presented amendments that could wipe out Maine’s solar industry. If the governor’s attack is successful, Maine’s solar industry could lose as many jobs as the 214 that will be lost when the Madison mill closes, which was just announced March 14, 2016.  

    "Maine's Legislature has an opportunity to support a bill that will result in the growth of jobs in Maine-based companies – companies already established in the state, companies that are owned by Mainers, will stay in Maine, and keep their employees in Maine,” said Sam Zuckerman, owner of Maine Solar Solutions of Durham

    The proposed bill would reduce energy costs for all electricity customers, create 800 good jobs across the state, and remove barriers that now prevent towns, businesses, and urban-dwellers from installing solar arrays.

    "The solar policies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire have helped generate many jobs,” said Harry Pollard IV, owner of True Enterprises of York. “Maine has the opportunity and needs to take advantage of the large potential job growth here.”

    LD 1649 does not contain subsidies, rebates, or discounts for solar. Instead, it modernizes parts of Maine’s utility policy that have unfairly created barriers to towns, cities, businesses, and communities going solar, and ensures solar producers are reimbursed fairly for the power they produce and sell to the electric grid. Failure to pass solar legislation this year will leave the LePage-appointed Maine Public Utilities Commission to consider changes to net-metering, and it is widely believed they intend to weaken or halt the program, a change that puts the existing industry at grave risk.

    "Governor LePage and his supporters are putting ideology ahead of the interests of Mainers,” said Woodruff. “At a time when our communities are losing jobs by the hundreds, the governor is ignoring the huge economic benefits of this bill and putting the livelihoods of more than 300 Mainers at risk."

    The solar bill (LD 1649, An Act to Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development), was the result of stakeholders working together over many months, including Maine’s Public Advocate (who looks out for ratepayer interests) and representatives from Maine’s solar industry, utility companies, municipalities, Maine conservation groups, and legislators, including Democratic Representatives Sara Gideon and Marty Grohman and Republican Representative Nathan Wadsworth.

    “LD 1649 has the potential to add an additional 800 new, good-paying jobs across the state,” said Chuck Piper, co-owner of Sundog Solar of Searsport. “One of the many great things about the solar bill is we can create these new jobs without any additional expense to the citizens of Maine. We feel this bill presents a great opportunity to Maine residents.”

    On March 16, the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee hosted a mobbed hearing, with two full overflow rooms. More than 70 Mainers got a chance to testify in support of the bill, and only two representatives of Governor LePage spoke in opposition. 

    On March 29, 2016 the committee voted on party lines to pass the bill. With the support of House Republican leader Representative Fredette, Representative Wadsworth pushed an amendment that replaces the entire bill and calls on the PUC to consider changes to net-metering.

    The amendment does not prevent the PUC from weakening net-metering, which they are poised to do if no bill is passed. A second surprise Republican amendment resembles proposals from LePage’s energy director, Patrick Woodcock, and would also take Maine backwards on solar.

    Representatives Wadsworth and Fredette have expressed concerns about ratepayer costs and claimed their amendment intends to “protect net-metering.” However analysis from the Public Utilities Commission and the Office of the Public Advocate shows clearly that continued net-metering will cost ratepayers roughly $10 million/year MORE than passage of LD 1649.

    Maine lags far behind other Northeast states on solar installations and jobs, and the governor’s legislative allies are supporting a measure that would make Maine’s sad situation even worse.

    Solar workers from across Maine discussed the current business climate for solar in Maine and the impacts of this bill on jobs, Maine’s economy, electric rates, and the state’s electrical infrastructure.

  • Hundreds stand against administration’s DHHS mental health service cuts in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    Community supports help affected Mainers live in their homes, prevent hospitalization 

    Hundreds of Mainers turned out Friday to stand united against the LePage administration’s cuts to mental health services and testify to the harm that they and their families will suffer as a result.

    Tiffany Murchison of Bath told the Health and Human Services Committee how she developed agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder, causing her world to shrink until she could not even go outside to get her mail. With the support of a community support worker, she slowly arrived at where she is today, standing before the committee, a Meals on Wheels volunteer and a business owner. Under the proposed changes, she would not have been eligible for the services she credits with saving her life.

    “Mental illness does not require medical equipment such as a wheelchair; however community services are a mental health patient’s wheelchair. Like a wheelchair, community support allows mental health patients to live more independently,” Murchison testified.

    The crowd packed the committee room and required five additional overflow rooms. They were among the 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness who were recently notified that this month they may lose the services that help them stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services.

    The Department of Health and Human Services is planning to limit automatic eligibility to Mainers with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, potentially leaving behind Mainers with post-traumatic stress disorder, major anxiety disorder and other diagnoses.

    Sen. Cathy Breen testified about her 21-year-old daughter, who has been living child-onset schizophrenia since the sixth grade. She would remain eligible, but would lose critical services nonetheless because the changes are causing Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Services in Brunswick to close. Breen said her daughter is certain she will wind up back in the hospital if she loses the services.

    “How does she know that? Because that’s exactly what happened last summer,” said Breen, D-Falmouth. “Like many families in this bumpy transition from the child mental health system to the adult system, we had a gap in support services. She deteriorated rapidly, and by August, she had a cast of characters in her head who – every day, all day – threatened to kill her family if she didn’t get to the nearest overpass and throw herself onto Interstate 295.”

    The administration is imposing the cuts through eligibility changes to Section 17 of the state’s MaineCare rules. The administration categorizes the eligibility changes as “routine technical” ones, which do not require review and approval from the Legislature. However, affected individuals made use of a rarely used option to petition the Legislature for review.

    “We cannot allow the administration to dismantle the supports that allows Mainers with mental illness to live independently and avoid institutionalization,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the committee. “DHHS is playing a shell game with people’s lives – cutting services here, reducing reimbursement rates for providers there and directing attention to other services that simply aren’t available for many Mainers.”

    DHHS is telling Mainers they might be able to get care in other programs while also planning devastating rate cuts of 24 to 48 percent for those services that providers won’t be able to absorb. DHHS also suggests its “behavioral health home” program as an alternative, but the program is so new that availability is extremely limited and, in some area, not an option at all.

    The committee will have the opportunity to propose legislation protecting people from these cuts. Any bill reported out by the committee ultimately will need approval from the full Legislature to go into effect.

    This is the second time in two months that Maine citizens have asked the Legislature to intervene because of the harm they would suffer under administration plans to cut support services for vulnerable Mainers.

    In February, the first petition effort ultimately led to a bill that would require legislative oversight for any changes to the services for adults with intellectual disabilities and autism. That bill, LD 1682, won final Senate approval April 1, 2016.

  • Making the case for jobs in ‘traded’ sectors with FocusMaine

    Maine needs more good jobs. That is why the recently formed nonprofit, nonpartisan FocusMaine aims to work with two or three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years. FocusMaine's independently researched effort identified agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals as the three sectors with the best prospects for delivering these jobs for Maine.

    All three of these industries are in "traded" sectors — industries where companies ring up sales for their products and services primarily outside the state and bring those dollars back into Maine. Some key examples of traded sector companies in Maine that we can already point to are IDEXX, L.L.Bean, Sappi, Unum and WEX.

    Why focus on traded sector jobs?

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly 50 percent higher than jobs serving a primarily local market. Traded sector companies have a higher percentage of full-time employees than non-traded sector companies.

    Each traded sector job on average supports 1.6 additional local jobs. These jobs are found both in local suppliers serving traded sector companies and in local companies providing consumer goods and services purchased by traded sector employees in their communities. These multiplier effects flowing from the money brought into Maine by the traded sector businesses constitute the ultimate engine for overall growth of the Maine economy.

    Reversing the decline of traded sector jobs

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs, essentially mirroring the national average. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought us well below the national average of 32 percent. This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs.

    Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs.

    Had we somehow avoided the loss of traded jobs, would we be the oldest state in the nation? Would so many of our best and brightest have left the state? Would our social services and schools be better funded?

    Those of us involved in FocusMaine certainly think these jobs would make a difference in our state's economy and the wellbeing of the Maine people.

    Driving growth in traded jobs

    FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify two or three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state. Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets.

    The FocusMaine mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs. We are now building a 10-year implementation plan, engaging key stakeholders and partners — educators, innovators, business leaders and others.

    We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs.

    Ambitious? Yes. Achievable? Absolutely. What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state.

    Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine.

    Michael E. Dubyak is chairman and former CEO of WEX Inc., a leading provider of corporate payment solutions, and co-chair of FocusMaine.

  • Global warming might be causing marine diseases to spread

    One well-documented example is the emergence of epizootic shell disease in American lobsters.

    Global climate change is altering the world’s oceans in many ways. Some impacts have received wide coverage, such as shrinking Arctic sea ice, rising sea levels and ocean warming. However, as the oceans warm, marine scientists are observing other forms of damage.

    My research focuses on diseases in marine ecosystems. Humans, animals and plants are all susceptible to diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Marine diseases, however, are an emerging field.

    Infectious agents have the potential to alter ocean life in many ways. Some threaten our food security by attacking important commercial species, such assalmon. Others, such as bacteria in oysters, may directly harm human health. Still others damage valuable marine ecosystems – most notably coral reefs.

    To anticipate these potential problems, we need a better understanding of marine diseases and how climate change affects their emergence and spread.

    Warming waters promote marine diseases

    Recent studies show that for some marine species diseases are spreading and increasingClimate change may also promote the spread of infectious agents in oceans. Notably, warming water temperatures can expand these agents’ ranges and introduce diseases to areas where they were previously unknown.

    Many diseases of marine species are secondary opportunist infections that take advantage when a host organism is stressed by other conditions, such as changes in pH, salinity or temperature. A bacterium that is dormant (and therefore noninfective) at a certain temperature may thrive at a slightly higher temperature.

    One well-documented example is the emergence of epizootic shell disease (ESD) in American lobsters. This disease, thought to be caused by bacteria, is characterized by lesions that penetrate inward from a lobster’s shell surface towards the inner flesh, making infected lobsters unmarketable. ESD can also kill lobsters by making it difficult for them to shed their shells in order to grow.

    In the 1990s, following almost a decade of above-normal summer temperatures, ESD affected so many lobsters that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission declared that the Southern New England fishery (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island) was in collapse and recommended closing it.

    Fishery models that incorporated shell disease offered convincing evidence that ESD was a major factor in the decline of the stock. This episode underscores the importance of considering marine diseases in stock assessments and fishery management.

    Now there are concerns that ESD will continue to spread north to Maine’s $465.9 million lobster fishery. In 2015 the Gulf of Maine showed record high abundances of lobster, making it one of the most productive fisheries in the world.

    However, sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine have increased faster than 99 percent of the global ocean over the past decade, warming three times faster than the global average. Since temperature is a primary factor in the spread of this disease, observers fear that it could have devastating effects on Maine’s lobster fishery.

    There is also a risk that ESD could spread from American lobsters to other fisheries. Seafood wholesalers have imported live American lobsters into Europe for decades, which can result in their escape into the wild. Last summer the United Kingdom’s Marine Management Organization warned U.K. fishermen that because the European lobster shares similar habitats, food sources and diseases with the American lobster, ESD could spread between the species.

    As a doctoral student at Swansea University, U.K., I collaborated with the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts to investigate this possibility. While we found that European lobsters were more likely to develop shell disease when reared in the presence of American lobsters, on the positive side, they don’t seem to get the same shell disease as American lobsters.

    This means that European lobsters may be better equipped to deal with outbreaks of ESD. But with sea surface temperatures in U.K. coastal waters rising since the 1980s by around 0.2-0.9 degrees Celsius per decade, it is important to monitor U.K. waters for this disease.

    Tropical disease

    Now I am now studying the Panuliris argus_1 virus (PaV1) in the Caribbean spiny lobster, where the picture is more dire. Discovered around 2000, this virus is present from the Florida Keys to Venezuela. It can infect up to 60 percent of lobsters in some areas. Laboratory studies indicate that lobsters held in high-temperature seawater and exposed to PaV1 develop active and more intense infections much more quickly than those held at lower temperatures.

    Studies from 1982 to 2012 show that waters in the Caribbean are warming, with the most significant temperature increase occurring over the past 15 years – approximately the period when PaV1 appeared. If PaV1 continues to spread, it could have significant effects on the health of Caribbean reefs as a whole, as well as on the valuable Caribbean lobster fishery.

    Monitoring more diseases

    Many other species are also showing increasing effects from marine diseases. The frequency of coral diseases has increased significantly over the last 10 years, causing widespread mortality among reef-building coral, which are home to more than 25 percent of all marine fish species.

    In the Pacific, more than 20 species of sea stars were devastated by a wasting disease that ranged from Mexico all the way up to Alaska in 2013 and 2014. Research suggests that 90 percent of some populations were wiped out, and some adult populations have been reduced to a quarter of pre-outbreak numbers.

    Scientists believe the cause is a virus which becomes more active in warmer conditions. In both field surveys and laboratory experiments, starfish were found to react faster to the disease in warmer water than in cooler temperatures.

    As the oceans continue to warm, it is crucial to understand how our actions are affecting marine life. Some species will not be able to withstand the increase in temperature. The most recent U.S. National Climate Change Assessment projects that outbreaks of marine diseases are likely to increase in frequency and severity as waters warm under climate change. Researchers are working around the world to determine whether and how species will survive disease events in our increasingly altered oceans.

    Charlotte Eve Davies is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  • Maine makes $2,625,735 from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s 31st auction


    Proceeds to date for the state are over $77 million

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,625,735 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 31st auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances. RGGI is the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution.

    The program, initiated in Maine by Governor John Baldacci, has brought in $77,301,179.35 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes.

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    14,838,732 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $5.25. Bids for the CO2 allowances ranged from $2.10 to $10.46 per allowance.

    Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2 allowance auctions, for all nine states participating, exceed $2.4 billion dollars. The March 9th auction was the first auction of 2016, and generated $77.9 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs.

    “With the first auction of 2016, the RGGI states build on a seven-year track record of successfully working together to reduce harmful carbon pollution from the power sector,” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at  the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our 2016 Program Review is moving ahead, and with input from stakeholders and experts we look forward to continuing to improve our trailblazing program.”

  • SaviLinx to hire 200 contact center employees at Brunswick Landing

     By Ramona du Houx

     SaviLinx, LLC, a contact center specializing in business process outsourcing and technical support services, announces that it plans to add 200 new staff members at its Brunswick headquarters.

    “We are delighted that our client has achieved measurable ROI from our team’s customer service and business process outsourcing solutions, and has chosen to expand their work with SaviLinx,” says Heather Blease, founder and CEO, SaviLinx. “Our focus on developing long-term partnerships to manage complex customer service interactions is a great fit for this client, and we look forward to growing our exceptional team."

    The hires are needed to support a large contract that extends SaviLinx’s scope of work for an insurance services provider, including quality monitoring and inbound phone inquiries.

    Maine has become known as a great place to locate call centers since Gov. John Baldacci’s administration. When he introduced Pine Tree Development Zones to expand or start businesses many flocked to the state. Call centers in remote regions sprang up, amongst other businesses taking advantage of the tax incentives offered under PTDZ certification. Baldacci jump-started Maine’s economy with PTDZ’s and set a path ahead to make Brunswick Landing, become successful.

    SaviLinx currently employs 100 people at its Brunswick Landing headquarters and another 200 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

    “These 200 new jobs are great news for the Midcoast region and great news for the Maine economy,” said Senator Angus King. “The hard work of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority and everyone at Brunswick Landing continues to pay off as more and more businesses plant roots and grow here in the area. SaviLinx is an important part of that redevelopment effort, and I thank them for their continued investment and trust in the hardworking people of Maine.”

    SaviLinx’s approach combines a flexible, 100 percent cloud-based technology platform with an employee-centric culture that values exceptional talent.

    SaviLinx chose Brunswick Landing for its access to a secure technological infrastructure and rich talent pool of people who possess a strong work ethic. The start date for new positions is May.

    Interested applicants can learn more at http://bit.ly/SaviLinxCareers.

    • Applicants using a desktop computer should visit: http://bit.ly/SaviBrunswickDesktopApply

    • Applicants using a mobile device should visit: http://bit.ly/SaviMobileFriendlyApply

     

     

    Founded in 2013, SaviLinx is a Women Owned Small Business. Visit the company online at www.SaviLinx.com

  • Madison Paper Industries of Maine to close by May- the 5th mill to close with LePage

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Madison Paper Industries mill in Madison will close by the end of May, putting about 214 employees out of work. The paper business will end and hydro-power assets at the mill site will be sold.

    “More than 200 workers were blindsided by this news. I met with workers just last week and heard no hint of this,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan.

    Some employees will remain beyond May to maintain buildings, operate the hydro generating facilities and support final activities related to the closing.

    “Despite everyone’s best efforts, the difficult decision has been made to cease paper production at Madison,” said Ruud van den Berg, senior vice president of UPM Paper Europe and North America. “Demand for supercalendered papers declined significantly in 2015 and the decline is expected to continue. The Madison mill is not cost-competitive and has lost a significant amount of sales in the recent past.”

    The mill is one of the largest employers and the largest property tax payer in Madison.

    "I'm saddened to see yet another Maine mill closing, leaving hundreds of people out of work.  The Madison mill was a longtime landmark in the community and a critical job creator for the entire region,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “My thoughts are with the families who will be affected, including many in my District—I will do whatever I can to ensure that they receive federal assistance to help find work again." 

    In 2014 a drop in tax value at Madison Paper of $150 million forced the town to seek a $2.5 million line of credit and make several adjustments to its municipal budget.

    In recent years many Maine mills have closed. The Lincoln mill, the Millinocket mill, the Jay mill, the Bucksport mill and now Madison's mill. As many of these industries were their town's largest employer, the people and businesses of these towns are now suffering. Mills have long been a tradition in Maine, but their era is at an end. During the Baldacci administration Governor John Baldacci put in place workers safe guards to help workers transition into new lines of employment.

    He also started Pine Tree Development Zones to help businesses start and/or expand in areas of need. Local saw mills started up in the Second CD. In Solon a business manufacturing wood flooring expanded with PTDZ help. And Madison has become famous for Backyard Farms tomatoes, who also used the benefits PTDZ certification gave them.

    Baldacci also helped jump start alternative energy industries in the state. It is hoped that the wind farm, the state's largest, to be built in Bingham might be somewhere Madison mill workers can find new employment.

    Gov. Paul LePage has not focused his policies to help areas in the Second District where the mills have closed As a result, the Second District has a higher unemployment rate and stagnant growth.

    On March 14th LePage held a meeting with legislative leaders.

    “I was pleased that the governor reached out to the Legislature to discuss how we can all work together to preserve and strengthen Maine’s traditional lumber, pulp and paper industries,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland.

    “But the hundreds of families staring down unemployment because of the Madison mill closure, and all the others who will be affected, don’t need politics. They need Augusta focused keeping Mainers at work and helping Maine’s manufacturing sector thrive. Maine still has six remaining mills and four remaining biomass facilities. We must work for short- and long-term policy solutions that protect Maine jobs.

  • Reward of $11,000 for information about a Maine lobster heist

    by Ramona du Houx

    A reward has been posted- $11,000 -to help apprehend a thief or thieves who stole a lobsterman's catch.

    “This is an extremely serious violation involving multiple victims, and we would appreciate any help from the public,” said Maine Marine Patrol Col. Jon Cornish. “The money for this reward comes both from the Operation Game Thief program and from lobstermen committed to bringing this person or people to justice. I’m grateful for the support of [Operation Game Thief] and these lobstermen and their dedication to supporting the work of the Maine Marine Patrol.”

    Maine Operation Game Thief, a private, nonprofit organization that works with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Marine Patrol, Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Warden Service and Wildlife Crime Stoppers, has offered the reward “for information that helps authorities bring the person or people responsible … to justice.”

    An investigation by the Maine Marine Patrol determined that about 200 lobster traps were hauled by someone other than the license lobster trap holders. The thief or theives then took the  lobsters were  and the traps were lowered to the ocean bottom, according to a press release from Maine Department of Marine Resources spokesman Jeff Nichols. Some of the traps were not retrievable.

    The traps were tampered with near Jeffrey’s Ledge in the western Gulf of Maine, about 30 miles off the coast of New Hampshire.

    Anyone with information about the case should call Maine Marine Patrol Sgt. Rob Beal at 479-3931 or the Operation Game Thief hotline at 800-253-7887.

  • Maine can improve our lobster industry




    • Editorial by Rep. Lydia Blume
      When people across the world think of Maine, one of the first things that come to mind is lobster. Lobster and its fishery are central to the culture and the psyche of our state - especially our coastal communities. It is one of the major reasons people visit Maine and the lobster industry contributes greatly to our overall economy.
      Our Maine lobster commercial fishery is special and the envy of the world. Lobstermen developed their own system of conservation measures to ensure the sustainability of the fishery long before the concept was common practice. It is well worth protecting and improving when needed.
      Why is this fishery so successful? There are three basic reasons.
      First, we have an owner-operator based licensing system. It promotes independence, variety in the fleet, responsibility and rewards hard work.
      Second, we have an integrated apprenticeship program to become an owner-operator. This slows entry into the fishery and passes on Maine’s strong traditions, rules, and conservation measures, such as strict adherence to size limits and notching of egg-bearing females. This promotes the continued good stewardship of the resource and individual commitment to its continued success.
      Finally, we have a Zone Council system. The coast is divided into seven geographic zones, each with its own lobster management council. This allows for localized authority over certain aspects of the fishery and for the cultural, economic and resource differences that exist across Maine’s coastal communities.
      All of these things combine to ensure that fishermen are proud and profitable in their chosen livelihoods and that the fishery will continue to be healthy into the future.
      There is a major problem facing the fishery, however. The limited entry system has become bogged down, and people who have finished the apprenticeship program can end up waiting for years to get a license. Some people have been waiting for up to 12 years before they move off the list and become licensed owner-operators. This results in people getting frustrated and leaving the fishery, and it discourages young people from entering the industry in the first place. Something has to give if we are to keep our lobster fishery healthy.
      I serve on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, and we have a bill before us, LD 1503, to make entry into the fishery a shorter, smoother and more predictable process. As written, the bill calls for creating a new “limited” license that would allow the holder to have up to 300 traps, as opposed to the 800 traps allowed under the existing license.
      As we have been looking into the problems with lobster licensing, however, we have been hearing about other possibilities for improving the system for entering the fishery.
      The task before our committee is complicated and it will be hard, if not impossible, to please everyone. We all must remember that the lobster industry is bigger than any individual or part of the state. We, legislators, lobster fishermen and regulators, must all do our part in helping to preserve this core component of our Maine brand.
      I am confident that if we all work together, we will come up with a solution that will allow people into the fishery in a timely manner and still protect the quality and sustainability of this iconic Maine resource.
  • Tonight Baldacci brother’s serve up their family’s famous spaghetti recipe for benefit dinner in Jay

    The spaghetti is made and good cheer awaits all participants!

    Emily Cain will join Gov. Baldacci and Joe Baldacci helping serve piles of spaghetti with the Baldacci family’s secret sauce.

    Last fall, Verso Corp. laid off 300 workers — roughly a third of the workforce — at its Androscoggin Mill in Jay. The mill is the largest employer in the area.

    “These are our neighbors. They need us all to pull together and help them and their families. We need to keep public focus on the workers and their families who need help and real leadership,” said former Bangor Mayor Joe Baldacci.

    The Good Neighbor Tri Town Emergency Heating Fund helps assist people living in the towns of Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls, where most of the displaced workers live. The Baldacci’s are working with Debra Kendall of The Good Neighbor non-profit.

    Tickets for the Spaghetti Dinner are on sale at Otis Credit Union (9am-4:30pm) at $10 for adults and $6 for children.

    The Baldacci brothers famous spaghetti sauce comes from their family’s secret recipe that became famous at Momma Baldacci’s, the former family restaurant of Bangor.

    “It’s a hard time for these workers, and their families,” said Gov. John Baldacci. “Helping those in need is second nature for the people of Maine. Our dinners have become a family tradition, one where we’re proud to help out when and where we can. Maine truly is one big family.”

    This January Verso Corp. filed for bankruptcy, as part of the Corporation’s continued restructuring. With the fate of the Jay mill uncertain, the fate of 565 workers and their families hangs in the balance.

    The Androscoggin Mill opened in 1965 and operated five paper machines; working at the mill soon became a proud tradition for many generations.

    For years the Baldacci family ran an Italian restaurant in Bangor. Its last incarnation was Momma Baldacci’s and it became a meeting place known for its food, conversation, and community atmosphere. To highlight and help issues in the community and around the sate the Baldacci’s started charity spaghetti dinners.

    John Baldacci’s as a congressman, governor and former governor has continued to hold the dinners for communities and causes in need. Former Bangor Mayor and City Councilor Joe Baldacci has taken up the torch, and started spaghetti suppers to promote the minimum wage issue last fall. Together the Baldacci brothers will host the event in Jay.

  • US Treasury Dept. confirms President Obama has fully turned around the U.S. economy

     

     

     By Ramona du Houx

    President Barack Obama’s has salvaged the U.S. economy from the damage done to it by his predecessor George W. Bush. The turn around has been an overwhelming success, according to the United States Treasury Department. When Obama took over as President the stock market collapsed from the bank induced mortgage crisis and we were on the verge of being thrown into a depression due to Bush’s failed policies.

    Pres. Obama’s initiatives prevented the USA from falling into another Great Depression, and now the Treasury has officially said that Obama has fully turned the economy around. 

    The American Recovery Act, though modest at the time it past, was just enough to spur needed investment in growth sectors. It was a major piece of legislation that Obama passed with support from Maine’s two Republican Senators at that time: Collins and Snowe.

    The ARA brought investments to Maine in infrastructure and research and development, which the Baldacci administration used to the best of their abilitites, ensuring the best projects were funded.

    Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has confirmed what economists and those familiar with economic policy have already known: the U.S. economy has been growing at a steady rate for several quarters, private sector job growth is consistently high, the unemployment rate has been reduced all the way down to the five percent level which economists view as ideal, and the stock market has grown tremendously. This all occurred even as President Obama reduced the annual federal deficit by seventy-two percent.

    But Lew says there are still challenges ahead, pointing to the inequality between the wealthy and the working class, and business tax loopholes, as areas of concern; Obama has tried to tackle both but has faced republican opposition. But he says Social Security is in far better shape than most Americans believe.

  • Potential Maine law to increase scrutiny of state contracts of $1 million or more

    An amended “Buy Maine, Buy American” bill that would boost Maine businesses while bringing increased transparency and fiscal responsibility to state government is advancing after winning support from the majority of the State and Local Government Committee.

    Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, proposed the amendment to create a new procurement review board. The 7-5 vote on this version of LD 1525 fell along party lines, with the independent member joining Democrats to support it.

    “Contracts intended to save money can end up being much more expensive because of unforeseen cost overruns,” Golden said. “It’s not enough to have good intentions. Maine needs this safeguard so taxpayers can be assured that state government is using their dollars wisely and that contracted work results in quality work.”

    The board, with five members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, would review all state government contracts worth $1 million or more. To win board approval, a contract would have to be the most economical way of meeting a demonstrated need, not impair the department or agency’s ability to perform its duties and not impede other state cost-savings initiatives.

    The amendment was added to the original version of LD 1525, which requires state government to purchase Maine-made products and contract services from Maine businesses whenever possible and American goods and businesses when Maine options are unavailable.

    “Taxpayers expect the state to spend their money wisely. That includes spending in ways that support Maine businesses and Maine jobs,” said Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, the ranking Senate Democrat on the committee, who worked with Golden on the procurement board amendment. “This bill, as amended, will support and sustain jobs in our state and create a level of transparency in state contracting that’s been sorely missing under this administration.”

    The majority report also includes a provision for state agencies to have the “Buy Maine” requirement waived if there is a compelling public interest to do so. The bill does not apply to municipalities or school administrative units and includes an exemption for products not available.

    “Maine should reward American companies and Maine companies, not undermine them,” said Rep. Roland “Danny” Martin, D-Sinclair, the House chair of the State and Local Government Committee. “This commonsense measure is about leading by example and making sure state government is supporting our own economy.”

     The minority report supported by Republicans replaces the original bill with language that does not require the executive branch to support Maine businesses and Maine jobs.

  • Legislation would protect social workers from violent retaliation in Maine

    Maine State Rep. Adam Goode’s bill to ensure the safety of Maine social workers by prohibiting the publication of their home addresses earned support at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

    “The goal of this legislation is to minimize the likelihood of social workers being exposed to harassment from disgruntled former clients,” said Goode, D-Bangor. “Having home addresses of social workers accessible on the licensing board’s website makes them more vulnerable to harassment, intimidation, loss of privacy and assault from an individual who may be emotionally unstable.”

    Goode submitted the legislation after a Vermont social worker was shot and killed by a woman who was upset about losing the custody of her child.

    A similar incident occurred in Maine in 1988 when a disgruntled administrator of a home for people with mental illness obtained the names and addresses of state licensing officials. After he was fired, the individual shot and critically injured then-Department of Health and Human Services licensing administrator Louis Dorogi in the kitchen of his Topsham home.

    Goode’s bill, LD 1499, seeks to improve the safety and privacy of social workers who hold a license from the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. The change would ensure that the home address of a social worker is confidential and not open to the public.

    April Tuner, a senior at the University of Maine studying social work, testified in favor of the legislation. 

    “For safety and privacy reasons, it is important that the home address of social workers not be made public,” said Turner. “As a mother, I am concerned that my family could be placed in danger because a client that I work with could obtain my home address. As a foster parent that concern grows even greater since I am expected to provide a safe home for a child that has already experienced trauma.”

    The National Association of Social Workers and the National Alliance on Mental Illness also testified in support of the bill.

    “It is unfortunate, but true, that social workers practice in settings that are increasingly unpredictable or unsafe,” Goode said. “This had led to some social workers becoming permanently injured or losing their lives.”

    The committee will hold a work session on the bill in the coming weeks.

    Goode is House chair of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee and a social worker. He is serving his fourth term in the Maine House and represents part of Bangor

  • Clinton/Sanders/O'Malley tonight in town hall

    With just a week left until the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley will make their closing arguments today, in a town hall hosted by the Iowa Democratic Party and Drake University and aired on CNN.

    The event, moderated by CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, will air from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET and comes as Clinton and Sanders are neck and neck in the polls.

  • Bernie Sanders just doesn’t get how politics works


    Sunday night, I watched the fourth Democratic presidential debate so you didn’t have to.

    Initial impression: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and democracy won. This was a substantive debate, devoid of the histrionics, name-calling, and fact-free pronouncements that are pro forma in the Republican presidential confabs. Both of the leading candidates did a good job of playing to their respective bases of support. Clinton came across as the pragmatic, level-headed, won’t-rock-the-boat candidate; Sanders as the passionate reformer who wants to start a revolution. As for Martin O’Malley, he seems like a nice man who has no chance of being elected president.

    Now for my deeper impression of the debate: even with his rising poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, I find it increasingly difficult to take Sanders seriously as a presidential candidate.

    Maybe it’s the fact that he’s 74, would be the oldest man to ever become president, and yet couldn’t be bothered to release his medical records until a Clinton surrogate attacked him for it.

    Maybe it’s that Sanders finds a way to answer virtually every question by turning it back to another predictable and one-dimensional attack on Wall Street and big money.

    Maybe it’s that every time he answers a question on foreign policy and national security, it’s blindingly apparent that not only does he not understand foreign policy and national security, he simply doesn’t care to know more. I mean, only Bernie Sanders could answer a question about instability Middle East by pivoting to an attack on wealthy nations like Saudi Arabia, which he repeatedly says has to play a greater role in the civil war in Syria, as if no one on his staff could bother to tell him that Saudi Arabia is already playing an important role in the civil war in Syria.

    Maybe it’s that his political pronouncements and calls for revolution increasingly remind me of the most annoying classmates in my political science classes in college.

    It’s all that and something else — Sanders really does have a singularly naive and simple-minded understanding of American politics. He genuinely seems to believe — and I know this because he repeatedly yelled it at me during the debate — that money is the root of all evil in politics and that if you get the big money out, great things will happen. Sanders said that “a handful of billionaires . . . control economic and political life of this country.” He argued that Republicans and Democrats don’t “hate each other.” He called that a “mythology.” Instead, he said, the “real issue is that Congress is owned by big money and refuses to do what the American people want them to do.”

    I’m sorry, but that is a maddeningly simplistic — and wrong — explanation of how American politics works.

    Take single-payer health care, which Sanders claims has been difficult to enact because of a corrupt campaign finance system that allows the “pharmaceutical industry” and private insurance companies to spend millions in “campaign contributions and lobbying.”

    On the one hand, Sanders is right — those are powerful interests. But so are doctors and hospitals, who’d pay a huge price if single payer became law; so are Republicans, who fought tooth and nail to defeat Obamacare and would do the same for a single-payer plan; so are Democrats, who couldn’t even support a public option for Obamacare and are unlikely to support single payer; so are Americans, who may not be inclined to support another restructuring of the health care system — a few years after the last one. It’s not just about money; it’s also about a political system constructed and reinforced to block the kind of massive reform Sanders is advocating. Money is important, but it’s not even close to the whole story.

    How someone who’s been in Washington as long as Sanders can believe that all that stands between doing “what the American people want [Congress] to do” is something as simple as reforming campaign finance is stunning. Sanders, who brags the NRA gives him a D- rating, is the same politician who supported legislation giving gun manufacturers immunity from civil lawsuits and voted against the Brady Bill. Why? Perhaps it is because Sanders comes from a state that has few gun control laws and lots of gun owners. Yes red-state senators who oppose gun control receive contributions from the NRA. They also have constituents who oppose gun control measures and vote on the issue — like Bernie Sanders. It’s as if in Sanders’ mind, parochialism, ideology, or politics plays no role . . . in politics.

    This is frankly what’s become so frustrating about Sanders campaign. I give the man credit for raising issues all too rarely heard in presidential debates, and as a protest candidate, Sanders is playing a vital role in the political process. But now that Sanders’ campaign has gathered steam — and he is ludicrously claiming that he’s more electable than Hillary Clinton — Sanders needs to do more than just sound the same tiresome platitudes and one-dimensional arguments about the evils of Wall Street. He needs to take the job of running for president seriously. If Sunday night was any indication, that’s still not happening.

    The simple fact is that there were three candidates on the debate stage Sunday night — and only one of them is qualified to be president. It’s not Martin O’Malley, and it’s not Bernie Sanders.

    From the Boston Globe

  • Maine's minimum wage ballot campaign submits signatures


    By Ramona du Houx

    On January 14, 2016, Mainers for Fair Wages submitted 75,000 verified signatures to the Maine Secretary of State to place an increase in the minimum wage on the November ballot, far more than the 61,123 required. Supporters marked the event with a rally in the State House Hall of Flags and remarks from more than a dozen Mainers from across the state, many of them making low wages themselves, who helped to collect the signatures.
     
    “I’m a single mother and I know what it’s like to work low wage jobs and not be able to make ends meet. On $8 an hour it was impossible to afford basic necessities for my family like childcare, transportation and keeping a roof over our heads. While I was working full time I still needed to rely on food assistance to be able to feed my family,” said Melissa Stevens of Lewiston. “I joined the minimum wage campaign last fall to collect signatures to support this initiative and I am thrilled to be heretoday with so many community leaders from all walks of life as we submit far more than enough signatures to place this referendum on the ballot.”
     
    Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition including the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO, launched the petition process for a citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage in June. If passed, the initiative would increase the minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that the wage would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.
     
    Raising the state minimum wage would directly affect more than 130,000 low-wage workers in Maine, most of them women and many of them supporting families, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute.
     
    “I am working as a tipped worker at a restaurant and a boost in my base wage would mean that I would not have to rely solely on tips in order to support myself,” said Esther Pew of Portland. “It’s hard to stick to a budget and be financially responsible when your wages can fluctuate drastically from one shift to the next. Getting a steady paycheck from my employer, and not just tips from my customers, would be a boost for me and thousands of tipped workers, mostly women, working in restaurants all over Maine.”
     
    According to Mainers for Fair Wages, the submission of signatures marks the end of the first phase of their people-powered campaign and the beginning of the next.

    “From the time I was 15, I’ve had to work a number of minimum wage jobs to help my family make ends meet. As the breadwinner, I was responsible, as a child, for making sure the heat stayed on through the winter, and unfortunately, I often failed in this endeavor,” said Tyler Williams, an employee of a big box store in Bangor. “Recently, I was forced to drop out of school because minimum wage, does not pay enough to get necessities, much less to pay tuition, too. This is the true tragedy of having such a low minimum wage. No one should have to choose between an education and a pittance. Hard work is supposed to give you the opportunity to pull yourself out of poverty, but $7.50 doesn’t help you out of poverty. It keeps you in it.”

    The ballot question committee has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from supporters giving contributions average just over $30 each and the campaign will seek to increase and strengthen that broad base of support in the months between now and November.

    “When I was 26, I was diagnosed with aggressive stage four breast cancer.  I had to leave the workforce for in order to deal with it and regain my health and strength.  Since then, I have had a hard time finding dependable and livable wage work that allows me to make ends meet while still paying off huge amounts of medical debt.  I currently work two part time jobs at very close to minimum wage, plus I help my parents with their business. With these three jobs, I still don’t make enough to get by,” said Brandy Staples of Phippsburg. “I heard similar stories all the time while I was collecting signatures to get this initiative on the ballot.  That’s what motivated me to collected more than 600 signatures last summer and fall. Raising Maine’s minimum wage to $12/hour will help me get on my feet and will help so many others like me.”

    Many businesses belive in raising the wage-

    “When working Mainers make a decent living, they spend that extra money in our communities. It’s good for the whole economy, including my business,” said Adam Lee, Chairman of Lee Auto Malls. “In the last year and a half Lee Auto Malls has raised our starting wage from $9 to $10 and six months ago we raised it to $11 per hour. It’s the right thing and the smart thing to do.”

    Every Democrat lawmaker in the State House and State Senate supports the measure- 

    "I was proud to join dozens of ‪#‎FairWageME‬ activists as they announced their submission of more than 80K signatures in support of $12/hr," said State Senator Justin Alfond.

    There have been many measures lawmakers have put forward-everyone has been veoted by Gov. LePage.

    “While big corporations and the top 1 percent continue to rake in money faster than they can count it, regular working folks struggle to get by,” said Sen. John Patrick. “No Mainer should work hard and plays by the rules only to earn poverty wages. There’s no question that the time has come to raise the minimum wage.”

    The office of the Secretary of State now has 30 days to review the petitions before referring the initiative to the legislature, which can choose to enact it without change or allow it to be placed on the November ballot.
     

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Maine's Minimum Wage campaign to submit enough signatures for ballot



    On January 14, over 100 low-wage workers, supportive small business owners, and volunteers with Mainers for Fair Wages will hold a rally and media event in support of the referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage and deliver more than 80,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office, more than enough to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

    "I work at a convenience store for just over the state minimum wage and I struggle to support myself and my family. When you're this close to the edge, one emergency can ruin everything. It wasn't too long ago that we were forced to live in a homeless shelter, while I was working full time but unable to keep up with the bills," said Katie Logue of Auburn, a campaign volunteer.

    In June of 2015, Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition including the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO, launched the citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.
     "It just isn't right that there are people like me all over the state who are working hard every day but can't get ahead. That's why I helped to collect hundreds of signatures to get this measure on the ballot, boost our state economy and help tens of thousands of struggling Mainers." said Logue.

  • To lawmakers: Support a Maine Minimum Wage increase - for moms and kids

    By Katie Logue, Auburn

    There are so many ways that the economy is rigged against women and families and I have seen the impacts first-hand. A few years ago, I was a single mom struggling to make ends meet, making slightly more than the minimum wage ($8 per hour) and trying to support myself and my 6-year-old after my marriage failed.

    My son and I were on food stamps and MaineCare, even though I was working full time. No matter how hard I tried to find appropriate housing, there was no way I could afford $900-$1,000 a month for rent. I had a car payment for a car that wasn’t even safe but was my only way to get to work. Even after I finally saved enough to get an apartment, it was impossible to keep up with the bills.

    At one point, after being evicted, I was living in a homeless shelter while working full time to save enough to get another apartment.

    I know that I am not the only one who has struggled to support my family on poverty wages. I also know that this issue affects women much more than men.

    The majority of minimum-wage workers are women, many of us supporting families.

    Here in Maine, women still earn, on average, just 84 percent of what our male counterparts earn. It is time for a change.

    In January, the Legislature will consider citizen-initiated legislation to increase Maine’s minimum wage. Lawmakers and voters should stand with Maine women and support it. First appeared in the Sun Journal.

  • Portland, Maine's minimum wage will give all workers a boost

    The new law honors the hardworking service workers in our city while making sure that all participants can prosper.

    With federal and state governments stalled, the Portland City Council listened to residents, economists and other knowledgeable people, then stepped up and enacted a higher minimum wage. As Gov. LePage has said on other subjects, important decisions should be left to the government operating closest to the people.

    On Jan. 1, 2016, Portland’s minimum wage for all workers will rise from the state minimum of $7.50 to $10.10. A year later, it increases to $10.68 and annually thereafter will increase with the cost of living.

    With the council vote, Portland became one of just 20 of the nation’s 20,000 municipalities to adopt a wage above prevailing state and federal minimums. No other municipality in New England or the Eastern Seaboard outside Washington, D.C., has done so.

    What we know is that a higher minimum wage will put more money in the pockets of the lowest paid workers. It will help families make ends meet and get more money circulating in the local economy. For some employers, it will require an adjustment and their concerns were expressed and considered. This increase, however, puts the minimum wage back in line with historic levels adjusted for inflation. The raise was overdue. The new wage is in line with research showing a minimum wage set at 60 percent of area median wages yields economic benefits but forcing wages higher than that stifles employment. The median hourly wage in Portland’s region is $17.32, well below the national median of $24.99.

    We need to be aware of the limits. Portland cannot simply compel high wages and prosperity. The good news for Portland workers: When the new law is implemented, our cost-of-living-adjusted minimum wage will jump from the sixth lowest to the 12th highest in the country. The new law also enables underpaid workers to bring a legal action for lost wages by making violators responsible for court costs and attorneys’ fees.

    At final passage, one provision got disproportionate attention. The “direct” or “base” wage for tipped workers is the amount an employer must pay a tipped worker no matter how much that worker eventually makes in tips. The state’s base wage is $3.75, substantially higher than the federal $2.13 that prevails in 19 states. In fact, about half the country has a state base tipped wage of less than $3 per hour.

    A majority of the council decided not to increase the base tipped wage. The law in Portland will require that all workers, whether tipped or not, young or old, be paid at least the minimum wage. When tipped workers do not receive enough tips to earn the new higher minimum, employers must make up the difference. Employees retain all tips.

    Over the months of discussion, I talked with tipped workers. Many report consistently making more than the minimum wage. Of those whose tips leave them short of the new minimum wage, most said that their employers make up the difference as required by law.

    If Portland raised the base wage, only two groups of employees would see any more money: 1) those already making more than the new higher minimum wage; and 2) any tipped workers whose employers do not follow the minimum wage law but would follow the base wage provision. I was not persuaded that city government should force businesses to give raises to people who make above the minimum wage in order to try to outmaneuver law violators.

    During public debate, some residents called into question the whole system where tipped workers must depend on the whims of customers for much of their compensation. Others pointed to other workplace hazards and indignities. We heard moving testimony on these matters.

    Those testifying made good points. Clearly, achieving just outcomes at work remains unfinished business no matter what we do regarding the minimum wage.

    What Portland achieved on the minimum wage demonstrates leadership. A raise was plainly needed. We could no longer leave the workers waiting for Congress or our governor to do the right thing.

    We took the time to enact an ambitious increase without taking unprecedented economic risks for a small city, one with a vital and very important service sector. Portland’s new minimum wage law honors the hardworking service workers in our city while making sure that all participants can prosper and contribute to making a vibrant economy.

  • Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative leads way in USA for carbon reduction to meet Paris protocol - a model example

    At the Paris Climate Change Conference over 350 state and local elected officials, representing every state, launched a sign on letter calling for 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and 100 percent clean energy by 2050. More elected officials are expected to sign on the letter in the coming days.

    A number of current and former elected officials organized the “elected official’s letter” initiative including former Maine State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx, former Councilor and Deputy Town Supervisor Town of Caroline, New York, Dominic Frongillo, and California East Bay Municipal Utility District Director Andy Katz.

    “We organized this initiative to highlight the important work state and local governments are doing to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution, despite many members of Congress who lack the leadership to protect our families and communities,” said Cornell du Houx.

    Over 17 elected officials from Maine signed the letter, including Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck. When Hinck was a member of the Maine state legislature he worked tirelessly on clean energy initiatives. He helped with the law that made Maine part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative leads (RGGI). The RGGI, America’s first cap-n-trade agreement, has earned the state over $74 million that has been invested in clean energy initiatives. The legislation had a unanimous vote for implementation during the Baldacci administration.

    “The RGGI gives Northeast States a start in the worldwide effort to increase efficiency and meet power demand without fueling climate change,” said Hinck.

    The transition to renewable energy sources creates jobs and opportunities.

    Farmington’s new Medical Arts Center at Franklin Community Health Network’s is saving energy while delivering critical medical care, in a large part, because of $59,532 in incentives from RGGI funds awarded by the state’s Efficiency Maine — the agency that channels RGGI earnings to clean energy projects.

    RGGI estimates a return of more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households, and 17,800 businesses. California's Cap-and-Trade Program, which started in 2012, generated $969 million in revenue for the state through the end of 2014. It is expected to generate $2 billion a year or more in the future.

    The RGGI states have experienced over a 40 percent reduction in power sector carbon pollution since 2005, while the regional economy has grown eight percent. “This proves that we can reduce pollution that’s putting our communities’ health at risk while growing jobs and prosperity. From East Coast to West Coast — states and local communities are leading the way,” said Katz.

    PHOTO: Former State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx speaking at the Paris summit.

    California, the world’s 7th largest economy, recently passed legislation to achieve 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and has started down that road with their own form of RGGI.

    “California’s example shows that climate action can be an engine for broadly shared economic prosperity,” said California Senator President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, at the “elected official’s letter” Paris press conference on December 8th. “By promoting the development of clean energy resources, we are simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and creating jobs that can lift families out of poverty. If Congress won’t act, it’s incumbent on state and local leaders to do the job for them.”

    When Congress has been gridlocked over how to combat climate change local communities have taken on the challenge.

    This year, the United States has hit many clean energy milestones. America has added more clean power than natural gas, with clean energy generation up 11 percent while natural gas generation declined. During this time, jobs in the solar power industry grew 20 times faster than the rest of the economy.

    "We want the rest of the world to know that the climate-denying, anti-science voices in Congress do not represent America,” said Nick Rathod, Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange. “Innovations at the state level often drive our national policy forward and that is exactly what is happening in the fight against climate change. States are leading the way."

    With the historic treaty to reduce carbon emissions worldwide that was reached in Paris on December 12, 2015 more clean energy projects need to be implemented.

    “Now we really have to step up the effort and meet the challenge,” said Hinck.

    The “elected official’s letter” initiative also supports the implementation of President Obama's Clean Power Plan, as it will bring the U.S. within seven percent of the stated goal.

    “We appreciate the administration’s leadership and commitment to working with state and local government,” said Cornell du Houx. “This letter is only the beginning. We will be working with state and local elected officials across America to ensure a healthier and safer future for our children. As leaders responsible for America’s present and future prosperity, we must take action now.”

  • $200 Million loan funds available from USDA for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects

    Exeter Agri-Energy utilized a USDA Rural Development REAP Guaranteed Loan along with $500,000 in REAP Grant funds to install an anaerobic digester at Stonyvale Farm, Maine.

    By Ramona du Houx

     USDA Rural Development has approximately $200 million available through the REAP guaranteed loan program for fiscal year 2016 to finance renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Maine’s rural communities.  The agency is now accepting applications from rural small businesses and agricultural producers to compete for $200 million in guaranteed loan funds.

      "This funding opportunity represents substantial potential for rural Maine businesses and agricultural producers to make long-term investments in renewable energy systems and energy-efficiency improvements through a local lender using USDA Rural Development’s REAP guaranteed loan program. This collaboration can help our businesses significantly reduce operating costs, decrease Maine’s independence on foreign oil, and ultimately demonstrate their positive environmental values to their customers and community," said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    Loan purposes include financing renewable energy systems such as biomass fueled anaerobic digesters and biodiesel production, solar, wind, geothermal, etc., and making energy efficiency improvements such as efficient lighting conversions, motor upgrades, building envelope improvements, HVAC upgrades and more.

    Exeter Agri-Energy utilized a USDA Rural Development REAP Guaranteed Loan along with $500,000 in REAP Grant funds to install an anaerobic digester at Stonyvale Farm, a third generation Maine dairy farm. The energy offset by the system through savings on electricity, heat, and cattle bedding was estimated to be $250,000 annually.

    Stonyvale Farm collects manure from 1,000 milking cows, and processors deliver organic waste to augment and optimize a "special" recipe that serves as the fuel. The careful introduction of organic waste into the digesters, in just the right amount and at just the right time, is part of the unique “edge” that EAE has developed at Stonyvale Farm.

     The system heats the manure/organic mixture to just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and agitates it intermittently over a 15-25 day retention period. At this point the concoction produces an energy-packed supply of biogas, a potent combination of methane and carbon dioxide. A 1,500 horsepower engine burns the biogas, powering a generator that produces enough heat every day to replace 700 gallons of heating oil on average, and 22,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. On an annual basis, that’s enough energy to heat 300 New England homes and enough to power as many as 800 households.

     Funds are being made available through Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Agricultural producers and rural small businesses benefit from available credit, favorable rates and terms, and energy and cost savings.

    Guaranteed loans are available for up to 75 percent of the total eligible project cost, and loan amounts can range from $5,000 to $25 million. The REAP loan guarantee requires that 25 percent of project costs come from other funding sources such as business equity or other borrowed funds, which could include a USDA Rural Development Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan. REAP loan guarantees range from 85 percent for loans of $600,000 and less to 60 percent for loans of more than $10 million. 

    For more information on how to apply, interested rural Maine businesses, agricultural producers, and lenders may contact Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov or visit http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/rural-energy-america-program-renewable-energy-systems-energy-efficiency/me.

     

  • Lawmakers tour five production, education, and shipping facilities during Portland Waterfront jobs tour

    Maine lawmakers Rep. Jorgensen, Rep. Moonen, Rep. Russell, Sen. Alfond, Speaker Eves, Rep. Chipman, Rep. Farnsworth, with Bert Jongerden of the Fish Exchange, Bill Needelman Portland's Waterfront Coordinator and Ray Swenton of Bristol Seafood toured the Portland Fish Exchange with Ray Swenton of Bristol Seafood. Courtesy photo.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine State House Speaker Mark Eves joined Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond and Rep. Matthew Moonen and Rep. Diane Russell in their districts with other Portland lawmakers and city officials to tour businesses and facilities along the city waterfront. The visit was a continuation of a statewide jobs tour launched in January by Eves.

    Most of these state Representatives were present during Governor John Baldacci's tenure when voter bonds were used to help build up the waterfront, dredging and establishing a pier. The grants helped the city promote the deep city port, which has attracted Eimskip from Iceland as well as more cruse ships.

    “Maine’s marine economy is vital to the strength of our state,” said Eves. “It was great to witness the deep commitment shared by employees, industry experts and business and community leaders to innovation and the creation of enduring partnerships between public and private sectors that will make Maine second to none."

    Representatives Erik Jorgensen, Ben Chipman and Richard Farnsworth were also present for the tours of Bristol Seafood, Portland Fish Exchange, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the Ready Seafood Company, and Eimskip’s facility at the International Marine Terminal.

    “Meeting with the people who have helped make Portland the economic and cultural juggernaut it is today was a thrill and a privilege,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland. “We should all look to the experience of entrepreneurs, business owners and workers who have created a thriving economy in Portland, and replicate their success elsewhere in our state.”

    Lawmakers, Maine House Speaker Eves, Sen. Alfond, Rep. Russell and Rep. Moonen, visit Bristol Seafood in Portland, Maine, on a jobs tour. Courtesy photo.

    Legislators began the tour at Bristol Seafood and Portland Fish Exchange. The Portland Fish Exchange, opened in 1986, is America’s first all-display fresh seafood auction. Over 20 million pounds of seafood are bought and sold each year at the Exchange.

    "The Portland waterfront is a critical component of the Maine employment picture. Fisheries, transportation, tourism, and industry supply goods, services, and jobs for the region. These jobs rely on access to the water and investment in aging infrastructure to continue and to grow," said Bill Needelman, Waterfront Coordinator for the city of Portland. "The City is pleased to work with the legislature and all branches of state government to strengthen marine employment on Portland's waterfront."

    Lawmakers also toured the Cohen Center for Interactive Learning at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. GMI recently was awarded it's largest grant of $6.5 million NASA to support climate change education. During the Baldacci administration GMI regularly would receive grants from Maine from bonds, which has helped GMI grow its diverse programs.

    “The Cohen Center for Interactive Learning is a great example of how education can help children and families understand Maine’s marine economy and why it’s so important,” said Representative Moonen. “It was great to see such comprehensive research made accessible and family friendly. Understanding is the first step towards action.”

    Ready Seafood Company, stop four on the tour, is a family owned and Maine grown business that employs over 50 and sources millions of pounds of live lobster ranging from the Gulf of Maine to the Canadian Maritimes.

    "We saw countless examples of ingenuity and dedication to quality that help raise the standards for not only Maine but New England as well," said Rep. Russell. "We remain committed to supporting Portland's thriving waterfront industries and the people and families who rely on them."

    Lawmakers closed out the tour at Eimskip’s facilities at the International Marine Terminal. Eimskip is Iceland’s oldest shipping company, and has offices in 19 countries worldwide.

  • Maine's Ocean Renewable Power Company awarded over $2million for energy project to help achieve U.S. climate goals

    On November 23, 2015, the U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced $125 million across 41 cutting-edge energy technologies awarded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

    Maine's Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) will recieve $2,248,223 to develop an innovative deployment and retrieval capability that will significantly reduce costs for cross-flow design marine hydrokinetic systems, in which a turbine generates power from tides and/or rivers.

    The turbine blades will employ active pitch control to allow for thrust generation in deployment/retrieval mode and higher efficiency in power generation mode. If successful, this project could reduce the cost of the installation process in which ORPC’s turbine could be placed in the water near shore, self-propel to the deployment location, and hold itself in place on the seafloor through redirected downward thrust.

    On the same day the ORPC grant was announced The Harold Alfond Foundation gave a $3.9 million grant to the University of Maine, formally establishing the Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory. The Ocean Engineering Laboratory will build prototypes of coastal and offshore structures, including ships, aquaculture facilities, oil and gas structures, and ocean energy devices under extreme wave, wind and current environments. ORPC will most likely be testing the new devices developed from the DOE grant at UMaine, as they have tested their products there in the past, improving their designs.

    “It’s been very exciting to watch ORPC develop innovative technology to generate sustainable, clean power from tides and rivers—all while creating and saving over a hundred jobs in 14 Maine counties,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  “As ORPC takes its technology to new markets, this federal investment will help them fine-tune their products so they are better able to compete with other power sources. I’m pleased that I had the opportunity to talk to Secretary Moniz about this great company and am glad that they were chosen for this significant award.”  

    Wave machine at the new lab at UMaine where ORPC will most likely test their innovations.

    Courtesy photo

    “The ARPA-E projects selected today highlight how American ingenuity can spur innovation and generate a wide range of technology options to address our nation’s most pressing energy issues,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “As we look beyond COP21, the energy technologies the Department of Energy invests in today will provide the solutions needed to combat climate change and develop a global low-carbon economy in the future.”

    These new projects are funded under ARPA-E’s OPEN 2015 program and come in advance of the COP21 U.N. Climate Negotiations in Paris next week. The announcement was made at D.C. technology incubator 1776 at an event that focused on leveraging America’s top innovators to find technological solutions to combat climate change, enhance security and solve pressing energy challenges around the globe. 

    Open solicitations – also issued in 2009 and 2012 - serve as an open call to scientists and engineers for transformational technologies across the entire scope of ARPA-E’s energy mission. Through both open and focused solicitations, ARPA-E funds innovative technologies that display promise for both technical and commercial impact, but are too early for private-sector investment. The OPEN 2015 projects come from 21 states and encompass 10 technical categories, including transportation, electricity generation and delivery and energy efficiency. 

    The 41 projects selected under OPEN 2015 will pursue novel approaches to energy innovation across the full spectrum of energy applications, with approximately 36 percent of the projects led by universities, 39 percent by small businesses, 10 percent by large businesses, 10 percent by national labs, and 5 percent by non-profits.

    To view the complete list of selected OPEN 2015 projects, please visit: http://go.usa.gov/cTHVW

  • Alfond Foundation awards $3.9 million to UMaine ocean engineering laboratories



    The Harold Alfond Foundation gave a $3.9 million grant to the University of Maine, formally establishing the Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory. The Ocean Engineering Laboratory will build prototypes of coastal and offshore structures, including ships, aquaculture facilities, oil and gas structures, and ocean energy devices under extreme wave, wind and current environments.

    “These will be the only labs of their kind in Maine with world-class capabilities to educate students and conduct cutting-edge research and development,” said professor Habib Dagher, executive director of the UMaine Composites Center. “The R&D will support the growth of the ocean economies and shipbuilding sectors in Maine and the nation, as well as the growth of digital and additive manufacturing of thermoplastic composite materials.”

    The Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory for thermoplastic composites will utilize digital, additive and robotics manufacturing to cut back the time and costs other methods require.

    The new laboratory features a 16-foot-deep wave pool with a rotating wind machine. It’s meant to test 1:50 scale models against waves up to 2½ feet, or 125 feet when scaled up, and the scale equivalent of hurricane-force winds. 16 large “paddles” push the water to create the waves of varying sizes and frequencies to see how prototypes hold up to the most severe storm conditions.

    Structural thermoplastics are recyclable materials that could transform the use of composite materials use in cars, ships, boats and aerospace applications. In June, the Composites Center received $497,965 from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to develop a national road map for advanced manufacturing of structural thermoplastics composites materials.

    “The University of Maine has long been a pioneer in ocean research and engineering. With the state-of-the-art Alfond Ocean Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratories, the students and faculty at UMaine will be able to build on this impressive legacy and help grow Maine’s marine economy,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King. “I commend the Alfond Foundation for its dedication to providing a brighter future for Maine, and for its continued commitment to giving our students the opportunities they need to grow, learn and thrive.”‎

    The total construction, equipping and start-up of the new laboratories over the first three years will cost more than $13.8. Of that, the center had raised more than $9.98 through four grant competitions, including the U.S. Economic Development Administration, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Maine Technology Institute, as well as a Maine voter-approved bond, supported by the Governor and Maine Legislature in June 2015. The $5million bond was the first LePage has backed during his tenure. Governor John Baldacci established bonds, through MTI, to continually fund the work at UMaine but LePage put an end to those programs.

    The Alfond Foundation's $3.9 million will help equip the facility, hire  engineers for the start-up in 2015–16, and fund graduate and undergraduate students over three years.

    Dr. Habib Dagher explains the process of testing in the pool at the UMaine Center during a press conference.

    Aleady established at UMaine is the Advanced Composite Center, which Dr. Dagher helped build during his time at the University. That Center is already developing advanced technologies for boat building, bridges, windmills, and ultra-strong buildings. With Dr. Dagher's guidence the Center recieved millions of dollars in grants from the state and federal government. Dr. Dagher also helped invent new technologies with his students and staff. (see more below)

    In the fuure their might be floating offshore windmill farms that use the discoveries of Dr. Dagher and his team. These, floating farms- yes floating, most ocean windmills are embeded in the ground - could generate enough energy for all of Maine, and beyond. They have already been tested at the new center.

    “Two integrated world-class research laboratories will be established in Maine through this unique partnership with the Alfond Foundation,” said UMaine President Susan Hunter. “This advancement in one of UMaine’s Signature Areas of Excellence creates unparalleled opportunities for students and researchers, and supports marine-related economic development in Maine.”

    Maine State Senator Amy Volk, chair of the Labor, Research, Commerce and Economic Development Committee said, “UMaine plugs its students into real-world research and engagement initiatives, including internships, co-ops and fieldwork throughout Maine — and beyond — in partnership with businesses and industries statewide, facilitating technology transfer, patenting, licensing and commercialization activities. We are encouraged by this public and private partnership to help Maine companies pursue R&D, as it represents strategic growth and economic development activity.”

    The UMaine Composites Center is the largest STEM research and development program located in a Maine university, and is at the heart of one of UMaine’s seven Signature Areas of Excellence — Advanced Materials for Infrastructure and Energy.

    More about UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center:

    Since its establishment by the National Science Foundation in 1996, the center has employed and trained over 1,800 UMaine undergraduate and graduate students. These students were paid to work on award-winning R&D projects with over 500 Maine-based, national and international companies. The center is housed on campus in a 100,000-square-foot laboratory facility valued at over $110 million.

    Research at the center has resulted in 42 issued and pending patents, over 500 published technical papers, and the creation of Maine spin-off companies through licensing agreements of its inventions, patents or trade secrets. This earned the UMaine Composites Center the 2008 Maine Development Foundation’s Champion for Economic Development Award.

    The center has received 40 national and international excellence awards, including:

    • 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change
    • Top industry awards from the American Composites Manufacturers Association.
    • The 2011 Charles Pankow Award for Innovation from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the top global innovation award for its Bridge-in-a-Backpack technology.
    • The 2011 Engineering Excellence Award by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).
    • With funding from the Department of Energy, the center has pioneered development of ocean energy technologies, deploying in 2013 the first grid-connected floating offshore wind turbine in the U.S. in partnership with 30 organizations. Advanced Infrastructure Technologies (AIT), a 2008 spin-off, constructed 20 bridges and became the first composite technology bridge system to be approved in the U.S. AASHTO highway code. It is now an international company after installing a bridge in Trinidad.

    In addition, Compotech Inc., located in Brewer, spun-off the center in 2014 to commercialize blast and ballistic technologies. That same year, Revolution Research, Inc. was created by two center students to develop recyclable insulation using cellulose nanofibrils.

  • Broadband project could create open access fiber network from downtown through Portland's Back Cove

     

    The City of Portland has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking fiber optic connectivity to its new Canco Road facilities. The City maintains a fiber optic INET (institutional network), which provides connectivity to all City and School buildings, and consists of five 10 GB network switches.

    The new connectivity is necessary as the City is in the process of consolidating public works, fire, and recreation operations to new facilities in two buildings at 212 and 250 Canco Road. The City would like to explore the possibility of using this project to create phase one of an open access fiber network starting in downtown Portland and ending at Canco Road. An open access fiber network could offer high speed fiber optics to both residential and commercial properties along this route.

    “We’re very excited about the possibility that this project could bring with it an added bonus for a large portion of our residents and businesses,” said Jon Jennings, City Manager. “Giving our citizens along this line a path to affordable high speed connectivity will spur economic development. There are several possible options for implementing this, and we look forward to exploring the costs and benefits of each.”

    The project could involve running a minimum number of single mode fiber strands to the City’s closest INET building, this option would likely be the least expensive, but would only serve immediate needs (see option #1 below).  Additionally, the City would like to explore the possibility of using this project to create phase one of an open access fiber network starting in downtown Portland and ending at Canco Road (see option #2 below).  An open access fiber network could offer high speed fiber optics to both residential and commercial properties along the route.  In the case of the Rockport and South Portland open access fiber projects, potential customers along the fiber route were offered internet access speeds of 1 GB for an affordable monthly rate.

     

     

    All proposers should be aware that the award of this contract, as a result of this request, is based upon appropriation of funds granted and/or accepted by the Portland City Council.

    Sealed responses will be received by the Purchasing Office, City Hall, Room 103, until 3:00 PM,

    Thursday, December 10, 2015. Proposals from vendors not registered with the Purchasing Office may be rejected. There is a mandatory pre-proposal conference for all prospective bidders that will be held in Room 209 of City Hall on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:00 AM. Only those firms represented at this meeting may submit a proposal for this project.

    "In my State of the City address earlier this year, I announced that we needed to increase broadband in the city, and this is a concrete step in the right direction," said Mayor Michael Brennan. "I've been working with the Mayor's Coalition to support legislative initiatives to increase broadband, including testifying last month before the legislative group, ConnectME, to support more broadband access in Maine." 

     

  • Maine's Senator Haskell continues push for paid sick time

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine currently does not require employers to provide paid sick leave, which means nearly 200,000 Maine workers in the private sector have no way to earn paid sick time. This means Mainers every day making the choice between their health and their paycheck.

    A bill by Sen. Anne Haskell, a Portland Democrat, would ensure that workers at companies with 11 or more employees have the ability to earn up to seven days of paid sick time per year. However, Republicans on the Legislative Council voted in October to block the bill from a fair hearing in the House and Senate. Sen. Haskell has announced she will appeal the Council’s decision at its November meeting.

    “The impact on a family when a breadwinner must take unpaid leave from work is devastating,” said Sen. Haskell. “Not only does that mean lost pay, but workers could actually face disciplinary action or even lose their jobs for doing the responsible thing and staying home when sick.”

    When workers cannot earn paid sick time, public health suffers. Just 40 percent of private service-sector employees are eligible for paid sick time. These workers, including restaurant, hotel and retail employees, interact with the public for a living, and many are likely to come to work sick, increasing the likelihood of passing an illness on to coworkers or customers.

    Paid sick leave laws are picking up steam around the country, with cities and states nationwide guaranteeing this basic worker right.

    On Labor day of 2015, President Obama issued an executive order requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to allow all employees on federal contracts to accrue up to seven days of paid sick time each year.

    “It is time Maine stepped up to the plate and showed workers how valuable they are to our economy,” said San. Haskell. “I urge my Republican colleagues to reconsider their votes against this bill.” 

    Bills for the second session must be allowed in by the Council, a body comprised of the top five Democrats and top five Republicans in the Legislature. Given the split makeup of the Council, bipartisan support is needed for any bill to advance to the Legislature.

    The Legislative Council will meet to consider appeals on November 19.

  • Minimum Wage Ballot campaign has enough signatures to be on 2016 ballot

    On Election Day the campaign to place a minimum wage increase on the ballot in 2016 announced that it had collected more than 30,000 signatures from voters at polls across the state on Election Day. Over 300 volunteers collected signatures at more than 100 poll locations across the state. The campaign has now collected more than 90,000 signatures since beginning in June – well over the 61,123 needed to qualify and all but guaranteeing placement on the 2016 ballot.

    "The amount of support we saw yesterday at the polls for raising the minimum wage was tremendous," said Amy Halsted, Campaign Manager for Mainers for Fair Wages. "It's clear that Mainers are ready and waiting for a raise. At a time when so many families are working hard and struggling to make ends meet on poverty wages, we can't wait any longer."

    In April, the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO submitted the paperwork to launch a citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

    "Poll after poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Mainers want to raise the minimum wage," said Halsted. "Raising wages statewide will help over one hundred and thirty thousand Mainers who are working hard, most of them women, often at more than one job. Working people deserve better than poverty pay for full time work."

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • Bangor voters can show raising wages is the right thing to do

    The important debate over raising the minimum wage in Bangor most certainly will be affected by the decisions made by the voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

    Tuesday’s election is not only for the future of Bangor but for the future of Bangor’s values and leadership throughout the region. We have been leaders and innovators throughout our city’s history. By electing the right candidates, we can show Augusta, Washington, D.C., and the rest of the state of Maine that providing a livable wage to our citizens not only is morally right but economically right as well.

    There are many fine candidates running for Bangor City Council. They may bring a host of ideas and experiences to the job of councilperson. Of this group, Meg Shorette and Sarah Nichols are the only ones fully committed to the issue of raising wages for those who live and work in Bangor.

    Raising the minimum wage, which has been frozen for more than six years, is an issue of basic economic fairness. After decades where most families have seen their incomes stagnate, it is time that political leaders focus on how we can raise the wages of all workers and strengthen the American middle class.

    The current minimum wage has a lower purchasing power than it did in 1968. While corporate profits are at an all time high, middle- and working-class family incomes continue to shrink. We can and should do something about that.

    The Bangor minimum wage ordinance takes into account all those involved: workers, businesses and city administrators. It raises the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.25 in the first year. In 2017, it increases again to $9 and in 2018 to $9.75. After that, the minimum wage will be tied to the consumer price index. It does not include tipped workers or those under the age of 18. It is a smart and measured way to help our citizens without hurting local businesses. These gradual steps allow business and the city to adjust to the changes while helping low-wage workers get closer to a living wage. It is a win-win for all those involved and is the right thing to do.

    Many have asked, “Why should Bangor or any city adopt a local minimum wage ordinance?”

    My first preference, as with most people, was to see a federal minimum wage increase. Unfortunately, we have a Congress that is actively hostile to any wage increase. That goes for the state level as well. The governor has vetoed and will continue to veto any minimum wage increase. He has gone so far as to sponsor legislation making it illegal for cities and towns to raise the minimum wage locally.

    In order to get a higher minimum wage, Bangor needs to be a leader once again for Maine.

    Over four terms on the City Council, I have fought for and helped pass policies that have brought hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to our region of Maine.

    Being pro-growth and for raising the minimum wage is simply good business. Putting more money in workers’ pockets means more money they spend at local businesses. Raising wages helps keep people with full-time jobs off our welfare rolls and helps strengthen families and communities.

    Shorette and Nichols clearly understand this.

    They both have strong individual records of community service, and both will bring new blood and new energy to the City Council. Both want to work for policies that will help all Bangor families make ends meet and create jobs. They will fight for a city that works for everyone.

    So, let’s vote to continue to move forward the important work of raising wages for all Maine workers. Let’s be leaders, economically and morally.

    Joe Baldacci is a current Bangor city councilor and Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District of Maine.

  • Gideon pushes to use liquor revenue for transportation needs - like bridges in need of repair

    Maine State Capitol, photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon is appealing the Legislative Council’s rejection of her bill to strengthen Maine’s transportation system to reap both short- and long-term economic benefits for the state.

    As the Legislature determines which bills will be considered in the second session, a new report is underscoring Maine’s pressing transportation needs. Fifteen percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and 18 percent are functionally obsolete, according to the report by TRIP.

    Earlier this year, the Maine Department found that current funding levels are at only half the levelneeded to maintain the safety and integrity of state bridges.

    Inspecting the Augusta bridge in 2007, with the MDOT and Gov. John Baldacci. Since then the bridge has been strengthened because of Baldacci's bonds. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    A survey by a national transportation group found that 15 percent of Maine bridges have some structural deficiency. The report found that 364 of the state’s bridges had structural deficiencies and another 432 were functionally obsolete, meaning they don’t meet modern design standards, out of a total 2,419 bridges over 20 feet long that were surveyed.

    Under the Baldacci administration bridges were upgraded and emergency bonds put into action. In addition new technologies like Dr. Habib Dagher's "bridge-n-a-backpack" were used to construct stronger, more durable and more easy to maintain bridges.

    LR 2488, An Act To Revitalize Infrastructure Investment To Create Jobs, would use revenue from the state liquor contract to address emergency transportation infrastructure needs, including maintenance of and improvements to Maine’s network of roads and bridges network.

    “The liquor contract provides a unique opportunity to improve our roads and bridges, help businesses move their goods more effectively and boost the construction sector,” said Gideon, D-Freeport. “There's broad bipartisan consensus that Maine’s economy cannot reach its full potential without a robust transportation system and that the elimination of the income tax, which benefits the wealthiest, would lead to higher property and sales taxes for the rest of us. We need to ask ourselves, ‘What are our priorities?’”

    Maine’s roads also are in dire need of attention. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave a “D” grade to the state’s roads, 83 percent of which are in fair to unacceptable condition.

    The new state liquor contracts are yielding higher profits that expected. The first year resulted in $46 million in additional profit, which puts the state on track to exceed the $450 million in profits originally expected over 10 years. 

    Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Republican Party are proposing to use the additional profit to lower and eventually eliminate the state income tax.

    Bills submitted for the second session of the Legislature need approval from the Legislative Council to advance. The Legislative Council voted 5-5 on Gideon’s bill last week. 

    Of the nearly 400 bills submitted for the 2016 legislative session, 33 received the green light. The Legislative Council will consider appeals when it meets Nov. 19.

  • Rapidly growing Maine business, INDEXX, sets example for training, caring for workforce

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine lawmakers and local officials on October 29,2015 heard first-hand from management and workers at IDEXX Laboratories, in Westbrook, about the growing demand for highly trained workers.

    The visit to IDEXX, the state’s largest publicly traded company and a manufacturer of veterinary diagnostic tools and water testing devices, was the eighth stop on a statewide jobs tour launched in January by House Speaker Mark Eves. Products to help detect and treat kidney desease in pets are examples of what IDEXX produces. INDEXX was certified as a Pine Tree Development Zone company under the Baldacci administration enabling it to take advantage of tax incentives. All PTDZ companies have to hire workers, and train them.

    The purpose of the jobs tour is to spotlight the need to grow good jobs and strong wages in Maine at a time when the state lags the nation in economic growth.

    “IDEXX is a bright spot in Maine’s economy,” said Speaker Eves, D-North Berwick.  “It is an engine of economic growth and a strong example of how to grow good jobs and strong wages right here in Maine. We were incredibly impressed with the effort the company makes to train, develop, and care for its workers. We hope we can help them find ways to continue to flourish.”

    Lawmakers including State Rep. Drew Gattine, State Senators Anne Haskell and Cathy Breen, as well as Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton and William Baker, the city's director of business and community relations, toured the LEED-certified Synergy Center. The Synergy Center is the company’s open work space concept building with a state of the art gym, local food based cafeteria, and clinic.  

    “IDEXX is one of our region’s largest employers, and I was impressed to see its operation in person and meet some of the great people who work there,” said Sen. Breen, who represents a part of Westbrook and is the lead Senate Democrat on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “The company’s commitment to environmental stewardship and employee health was clear during the tour of its Synergy Center, and its dedication to employee wellbeing is also a model to be followed.”

    IDEXX employs roughly 2,400 people at the Maine headquarters in Westbrook and 6,000 worldwide.  IDEXX  added 1,000 new jobs last year and expects to grow at its workforce 4 percent per year.

    “IDEXX is an excellent company to work for and a great corporate citizen of our city," said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook. "Our visit focused on how we can work together to get more Maine students and workers into their pipeline for hiring.”

    Sen. Anne Haskell, who also represents part of Westbrook, was impressed by the company’s commitment to its workers.

    “The precision and technical work that takes place at IDEXX every day requires the kind of highly skilled workforce that must be prioritized to meet the demands of the 21stCentury economy,” said Haskell. “It was great to see IDEXX engaged in the kind of leadership development and training that can help their employees succeed. These are the kind of good business practices policymakers should support.”

    Lawmakers have met with employers, workers, and community leaders across the state in York, Aroostook, Hancock, Kennebec, Somerset, Waldo and Oxford counties. The meetings prompted lawmakers to create the Put ME to Work program this session to partner with employers to train workers across the state for good paying-jobs in growing industries, such as logging, agriculture, health care and manufacturing.  

  • Maine must address acidification to save our fisheries, our way of life

    Portland, Maine docks, photo by Ramona du Houx

     Editorial by Maine State Senator Chris Johnson, from Somerville.

    Last year, Maine became the first state on the East Coast to tackle the growing threat to our way of life posed by an increasingly acidic ocean. Today, we stand at a crossroads.

    Ocean acidification is a very real and serious threat to the Gulf of Maine. The ocean today is more than 30 percent more acidic than it was at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The causes of this increasing acidity are myriad, but most of them are linked in one way or another to global climate change.

    Lobster fishing is at risk with ocean temperatures on the rise and acidification. Photo of Belfast lobster fisherman by Ramona du Houx

    According to a story in this week’s Portland Press Herald, scientists estimate that by 2100, the oceans will be more acidic than they’ve been in the past 300 million years. The Gulf of Maine is particularly vulnerable to acidification, which threatens many of our important fisheries. Acidity harms shellfishes ability to grow shell during their juvenile stage, drastically decreasing their likelihood of survival.

    Several communities in my district rely in part on these fisheries. Seafood eaters in our state will likely have ordered  “Pemaquid Oysters” or clams or other shellfish from our region at restaurants. These marine creatures provide jobs and spur economic activity in our region.

    But this isn’t just a local concern. Maine’s fisheries in 2014 had a value of more than $585 million, nearly all of which came from shellfish such as lobster, clams, scallops and oysters. Simply put, threats to these sea creatures are threats to our state’s economy.

    Last year, I co-chaired a commission to study the effects of ocean acidification on Maine’s coast and fisheries. The group included policymakers, fishermen, aquaculturists and scientists.

    The commission’s work culminated last December in a report recommending several steps Maine could take to address the threat of acidification in our state. Perhaps the most important of these steps was also the simplest: The state must take acidification seriously and embark on a sustained, coordinated effort to mitigate its effects on the Gulf of Maine.

    A bill by Rep. Mick Devin currently awaits the Legislature when it returns in January. That bill would establish a long-term Ocean Acidification Council to address this growing threat.

    The coming session is reserved for emergency legislation. There can be no question that the threat posed by acidification to our fisheries, our economy and our way of life is an emergency the state must address.

    Some may raise concerns about the minimal costs associated with an ongoing effort to protect our fisheries. But the cost of doing nothing is far greater to our friends and neighbors who turn to the ocean to earn a living and support their families.

    We simply cannot wait for an ecological collapse of one of our important fisheries before we act.

    Climate change is real. Ocean acidification is real. They threaten to devastate our marine resource economy — and many coastal communities’ way of life. I urge you to contact your lawmakers, and ask them to support the critical work ahead. There’s too much at stake to stop working now.

     

  • USDA grants for Maine to remove health and safety hazards, make homes more energy efficient

    Photo left: Governor John Baldacci helps to weatherize a home in Augusta to help the elderly save heating costs in 2009. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx 

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced October 28, 2015 that USDA is investing $3.7 million to help rural families repair and rehabilitate their homes.

    “At this critical time of the year as weather turns colder and many Mainers struggle to pay their heating bills, I am pleased that USDA Rural Development can provide funding to our partners that will help 30 Maine families in five counties weatherize and make repairs to their homes. This helps them to preserve what is often their most valuable asset and provide a safe, warm home for their families,” said USDA Rural Development Maine State Director Virginia Manuel.

    Under the Baldacci administration programs were put into action to help weatherization improvements. Bonds, grants from the federal government and training programs were put into place. Funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative were used through Efficiency Maine to help businesses and the elderly.

     

    Governor John Baldacci also created bonds to help research and development of alternative energy technologies, as well as promoted the production of wood pellets from disused forested trees.

     

    During the recession Baldacci started the Weatherization core, based on F. D. Roosevelt’s conservation core, to help low income and elderly Mainers with weatherization improvements.

     

    Governor Baldacci saw that creating these initiatives would save the people of Maine thousands of dollars they would have wasted in heating costs, as well as grew the economy with new jobs. As Maine's building stock is over 85 percent of older homes these jobs would reach far into the future.

     

    Unfortunately, Governor Paul LePage has a different plan. He wishes to use protected forestland for fuel for low income Mainers and until he gets his way he refuses to release over $11 million in voter-approved bonds for land conservation.

     

    Many of Baldacci's initiatives received funds from the USDA, and the Department of Energy under the Obama administration.

     

    The funds announced by Secretary Vilsack are being awarded through the Housing Preservation Grant (HPG) program in 46 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to support the renovation of 1,147 units.  

       "Many low-income families in rural areas struggle to afford necessary housing upkeep," said Secretary Vilsack. "This USDA program provides grants for repairs not only to ensure that properties are in compliance with health and safety codes, but also to help people lower their maintenance costs through energy efficiency and weatherization improvements. All of these efforts make sure rural folks can stay in their homes.”

    Where the USDA funds will be allocated: 

    • Western Maine Community Action, located in Wilton has been selected to receive a Housing Preservation Grant in the amount of $25,000. Funds will be used to rehabilitate and repair 10 homes for very low income households in Franklin County. Funds will be used in conjunction with weatherization, Central Heating Improvement, and other funding sources for anticipated leveraged funds totaling in excess of $109,000.

     

    • Penquis Community Action Program, located in Bangor, has been selected to receive a Housing Preservation Grant in the amount of $25,000. Rural Development funds will be used by Penquis CAP to assist 20 very low and low income households in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Knox, and Waldo counties.  The funds will be leveraged with approximately $230,800.00 in funding from MaineHousing, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and other weatherization programs.  

     Photo right: Governor John Baldacci at a school in Wilton talking about the pellet burner, funded in part by state government programs and the USDA grant, in 2009. Photo by Ramona du Houx

     USDA provides financing to such as local governments, public agencies, federally recognized Indian Tribes, non-profit organizations and faith-based and community groups.  These entities distribute the grants to individual homeowners as well as to owners of multi-family rental properties or cooperative dwellings who rent to low- and very-low-income residents.  

       Since the start of the Obama Administration, USDA has provided almost $47 million in Housing Preservation Grants that have leveraged more than $167 million to repair and rehabilitate 12,000 homes and apartments in rural communities.

  • Maine law to protect jobs of sexual assault victims now in effect

    Maine State Capitol in the fall, photo by Ramona du Houx

     A law strengthening workplace protections for victims of sexual assault and other violence by expanding their rights to take a leave of absence from their jobs is now in effect.

    The law, PL 343, builds upon protections first adopted in 1999. It requires employers to restore employees who are victims of violence to the position they had before taking a leave or to an equivalent position with similar wages and benefits. It also increases fines for employers who violate any of the protections.

    The measure applies to both employees and immediate family members who are victims of violence.

    “Last year, I became aware of situations where employers did not follow the law and fired employees who requested leave after a violent incident,” said Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, sponsor of the original legislation. “Before this law passed, the victim had no legal recourse. There is still a ways to go, but this is a good step forward.”

    Under previous law, when employers illegally fired victims of violence or sexual assault, their only punishment was a $200 fine from the Maine Department of Labor that did not go to the victim. Now the fine is $1000 to the Department, and employees can choose to either receive either $3,000 or be rehired with back pay. 

    “After going through such a traumatic experience, a person’s first thought shouldn’t be ‘Am I going to lose my job?’” said Daughtry. “I’m glad the tide is beginning to turn on this issue.” 

    Daughtry’s legislation was confirmed as law after the Maine Supreme Court ruled that the governor failed to issue a veto within the 10-day window allotted him by the Maine Constitution. The measure became law without the signature of the governor.

    “The original law protecting victims of violence was intended to give them time to recover and seek treatment, prepare for and attend court proceedings or develop a plan for their continued safety,” said Daughtry. “This new law begins to back up those intentions with real consequences for employers who violate the law. Too many victims, especially women, are not taking all the time they need to heal because they fear losing ground at work.”

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • Survey finds 87% of Maine business owners support minimum wage referendum and want a fair tax system


    Main Street Alliance (MSA), a national organization committed to providing a voice for small business owners, today released the results of a survey of over 1,000 small business owners on varied public policy issues. The small business owners were asked about issues ranging from corporate taxes to job quality issues, as well as local policies that affect small businesses. The results of the surveys reveal that many small business owners share views at odds with the most high-profile business lobby groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

    In Maine, a huge majority (87 percent) of surveyed small business owners support the proposed referendum to raise Maine's minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020. The referendum is sponsored by the Maine People's Alliance and has been endorsed by the Maine Small Business Coalition.

    John Costin, who was featured in the report and owns Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk.

    "Raising the minimum wage in Maine will help keep our products and services affordable and attainable to a larger customer base. Increased demand for our work will help us continue to create high-paying jobs - reducing unemployment and increasing sales, driving growth throughout the state," said John Costin, who was featured in the report and owns Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk. 

    Nearly three-quarters of surveyed small business owners said that large corporations currently pay less than their fair share of taxes (72 percent) and that corporate tax loopholes hurt small businesses (74 percent).

    "These findings reveal that small business owners agree with most Americans that our tax code is tipped towards the elite that can afford high powered lobbyists," said Will Ikard, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which is a local affiliate of MSA. "Not only are hard-working Maine employees suffering from an unfair tax system, hard-working small business owners are too."



    In response to questions about job quality and worker protection laws, small business owners again differed from the aggressive lobbying of those business groups with the most national influence. For example, supermajorities of respondents support a federal paid sick day policy (65 percent) and a paid family leave policy (64 percent).

    "In order to sustain [our] growth, we must ensure that Mainers can afford products and services that companies like mine provide," said Costin. "Increased demand for our work will help us continue to create high-paying jobs - reducing unemployment and increasing sales, driving growth throughout the state."

  • October 21: A New National Park for Maine presentation by NRCM in Belfast

    National Resources Council of Maine's Ryan Parker will give a presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast, 37 Miller Street, on  October 21st at 6:30 p.m. about Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.’s (EPI) proposal to create a National Park and National Recreation Area east of Baxter State Park.

    EPI has proposed to donate up to 150,000 acres to the federal government to create Maine’s second National Park. Ryan will use photos and film to give attendees a glimpse of the land and its special features, and will describe the journey toward making the dream of a National Park and National Recreation Area reality.

    This event is free and open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. FMI: please contact Ryan at rparker@nrcm.org or (207) 430-0144

  • Maine: where women, children can’t meet basic needs has the wrong priorities

    Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Come election time, it seems every politician loves the ladies. It makes sense — women are registered to vote in higher numbers than men and turn out to vote at higher rates. But how do candidates’ declarations of admiration and affection for mothers, wives and daughters translate into public policy? Look a little more closely, and you’ll find a reality wildly out of step with their flowery words.

    Recently released U.S. Census data demonstrate once again that when we talk about poverty, we are talking about women and children. One in seven American women lived in poverty in 2014, and rates are especially high among women who head families, African American women, Latina women, women over age 65 living alone and women with disabilities. More than two-thirds of the elderly poor are women. Women represent 63 percent of minimum wage workers, 63 percent of part-time workers and 53 percent of the working poor.

    The numbers in Maine are largely consistent with those nationally, with one sad and frustrating exception. In Maine, 58 percent of single mothers of children under 5 live in poverty, a rate far higher than that of the nation. Furthermore, Maine stands out among the New England states for the number of women living in poverty, working part time and earning less than $20,000 per year.

    Poverty rates matter because economic security has a bearing on every other aspect of a woman’s life. Whether a woman has money and how she earns it affects her health, her ability to escape a violent relationship, her ability to chart her own life, her children’s prospects. In other words, the well-being of women is integral to the well-being of society as a whole and a state in which women and children cannot meet their most basic needs is one that has chosen the wrong priorities.

    For far too long, we have been encouraged to believe that economic circumstances, like the weather, are something outside of our control. Furthermore, we’ve been told that poverty is an individual failing rather than a societal one. In reality, millions of American women struggle to support themselves and their families no matter how hard they work due to the combined effects of systematic discrimination established in law long ago and more recent changes to the workplace that allow businesses to profit while treating employees as though they are disposable.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. We can, together, make different public policy choices in order to build a strong middle class and a healthier society where everyone has a chance to succeed. Those choices include ensuring that:

    — Everyone in Maine can meet their basic needs like food and housing.

    — Each child gets off to a healthy start in life, with the nutrition and nurturing that build strong brains and create a foundation for later success.

    — Adults can continue to get an education, acquiring and updating skills to meet the needs of an ever-changing economy.

    — All Mainers have access to the full range of health care, not only for their well-being and dignity, but also so that that they can earn a living.

    — Our workplace policies — wages, scheduling, the ability to earn paid sick time, access to paid leave to address a major life event — reflect the realities of families in the 21st century.

    Building a future in which all Mainers thrive, including eliminating poverty among women and children, is no small undertaking. Yet we already know the building blocks to success. What is required is the will to make change, and the collective effort of Mainers in the political, philanthropic, business and nonprofit sectors.

    There isn’t a moment to lose. Those interested in improving life for women and their families can join us for the Maine Women’s Summit on Economic Security on Friday, Oct. 16, at the Augusta Civic Center.

    Eliza Townsend is the executive director of the Maine Women’s Policy Center.

  • Dr. Dagher’s history of innovation, leadership and work at UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center recognized by White House award



    Dr. Habib Dagher his Bridge in a Back Pack behind him at the University of Maine in 2009. photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    In the spring of 2009 when Dr. Habib Dagher walked on the stage at the University of Maine during a presentation about bridge composite technologies he was casually carrying an oversized backpack. To most everyone’s surprise he opened the backpack and proceeded to pull out a large blue cylinder bag—and announced this was the major component that would form the skeleton of the arch of the award-winning composite bridge system, known as the “Bridge-in-a-Backpack.”

    In addition to the composite arch bridge system, Dr. Dagher’s history of innovation includes being named on 24 patents with 8 more pending.

    Finally, Dr. Dagher, on October 13, 2015, has been properly recognized for being a leader, the prime inventor of the “Bridge-in-a-Backpack,"  an inspiring innovator and mentor as he became a “2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change.”

    The White House Champions of Change Program honors Americans who are empowering and inspiring other members of their communities. At the event, honorees will have the opportunity to highlight their efforts in advancing transportation during a panel discussion. In addition, a blog post and the biography of each honoree will be featured on the White House website.

    “I’m really, really humbled,” said Dr. Dagher, founding Director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. “The award really belongs to the entire center, to the entire team.”

    The Bridge-in-a-Backpack’s arches, made of composite materials, are inflated at the site of a bridge and then infused with resin. Once they harden, they are lowered into place and filled with concrete and the foundations are shored up. Then the arches are covered in a corrugated, composite material, dirt and sand fills in gaps, and a composite deck on top of the structure is paved.

    The world’s first “Bridge in a Backpack” can be seen in Pittsfield as the Neal Bridge. That 44-foot structure used 23 arches in its construction and cut down the time of erecting a bridge — which was built by UMaine students, professors, and the Maine Department of Transportation.

    Governor John Baldacci made sure ten percent of Maine’s bridges would be built from the technology developed at the Composite Center in a transportation bond. That enabled the first Bridge in a Backpack to be constructed, and every since then attention and acclaim has been rolling in. With revolutionary examples of a light weight, more durable and flexible bridge technology here in Maine other states continue to see the advantages of using the “Bridge-n-a-Backpack.” The company that manufactures the bridges is owned and operated by Mainers in Orono, near UMaine.

    Dagher has also spurred composite technologies in alternative energy systems, boat building and extra strong buildings.

    “Dr. Habib Dagher is a wonderful and talented ambassador for Maine, and UMaine. His work on the composite program is yielding gains in transportation, energy, and boat building. I am proud of what he did in Maine and how the technologies he has fostered are great examples of what Maine can do for the nation,” said Former Governor John Baldacci.

    Dr. Dagher received his award in Washington D.C. at the White House Champions of Change event as U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx recognized 11 of the nation’s top transportation innovators for their exemplary leadership in advancing transportation and leading change that benefits our nation’s transportation system.

    The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) nominated Dr. Dagher for the award.

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