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  • New Maine laws to help working families, small businesses, students, and veterans

    Maine House wraps up work for 2017 on August 2nd

    Measures to invest in education, support small business, increase consumer protections and strengthen environmental stewardship marked the first regular session of the 128th Legislature that wrapped up for the year on August 2. Lawmakers also dealt with a number of issues as a result of the referenda passed in the 2016 election.

    Democratic and Republican lawmakers worked collaboratively to accomplish many of these key goals despite obstruction by Gov. Paul LePage and his allies in the House.

    “We made great strides to help improve the lives of Maine families,” said Speaker of the House Sara Gideon.  “Lawmakers came together to do right by our citizens, even in a time of divided government.  We made smart, targeted investments to grow our economy and increase prosperity for Maine families.  And most importantly, we capitalized on our most important resource - Maine people, investing in lifting children out of poverty and ensuring that they have access to the excellent education, from early childhood through higher ed, that will position them and all of us for a successful future.” 

    Lawmakers considered approximately 1,650 bills this session, with 350 bills becoming law. Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled members came together to override 55 of 128 Gov. LePage vetoes.

    Democrats rejected measures to roll back women’s rights, worker’s rights, and voting rights, while fighting to harness clean, renewable energy and safeguard our environment.

    “While politics as usual in Washington D.C .might mean gridlock, this session we proved that Maine knows how to get things done, “ said Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “From strengthening health care services for first responders and veterans to investing in our kids and communities through better education funding statewide, we worked hard this session and achieved real progress for all Mainers."

    The Legislature will reconvene for the Second Regular Session of the 128th Legislature in January 2018. 

    Key New Laws from the First Regular Session of the 128th Legislature

    Measures sponsored by House Democratic members and unenrolled members who caucus with Democrats: 

    Public Safety

    An Act To Allow Hunters Whose Religion Prohibits Wearing Hunter Orange Clothing To Instead Wear Red

    An Act To Require State Compliance with Federal REAL ID Guidelines

    An Act To Delay the Implementation of Certain Portions of the Marijuana Legalization Act

    An Act to Combat Human Trafficking by Requiring Prevention Training for Commercial Drivers

     

    Education

    An Act To Improve Safety and Traffic Efficiency near School Grounds

    An Act To Revise Certification Statutes for Educational Personnel

    An Act To Protect Students from Identity Theft

    An Act To Provide Youth Mental Health First Aid Training to Secondary School Health Educators

    Resolve, To Establish the Task Force To Identify Special Education Cost Drivers and Innovative Approaches to Services

     

    Economy and Small Business

    An Act To Extend the Legal Hours for Harvesting LobsterAn Act To Support Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Maine's Economic Future

    An Act Regarding Transfers of Liquor between Licensed Manufacturers' Facilities

    An Act To Provide Support for Sustainable Economic Development in Rural Maine

    An Act To Ensure Continued Availability of High-speed Broadband Internet at Maine's Schools and Libraries

    An Act To Improve Vocational Rehabilitation under the Maine Workers' Compensation Act of 1992

     

    Energy / Environment

    An Act To Protect Maine's Clean Water and Taxpayers from Mining Pollution

    An Act To Include 50 Milliliter and Smaller Liquor Bottles in the Laws Governing Returnable Containers

    An Act To Create a Penalty for the Discharge of Septic Waste from Watercraft into the Inland WatersAn Act To Establish Energy Policy in Maine

    An Act To Revise Certification Statutes for Educational Personnel

     

    Health Care and Public Health

    An Act To Require Insurance Coverage for Contraceptive Supplies

    An Act To Incorporate Protections for Living Donors into Maine Law

    An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Forensic Examination Kits

    An Act To Increase Access to Hearing Aids

    An Act To Prohibit Certain Gifts to Health Care Practitioners

    An Act To Provide Youth Mental Health First Aid Training to Secondary School Health Educators

     

    Consumer Protection

    An Act To Promote Fiscal Responsibility in the Purchasing of Debt

    An Act To Protect Maine Consumers from Unexpected Medical Bills

    An Act To Protect Students from Identity Theft

    An Act To Increase Reporting on Wage and Hour Violations

     

    Transportation

    An Act To Authorize the Construction of a Maine Turnpike Connector to Gorham

    An Act To Improve Safety and Traffic Efficiency near School Grounds

     

    Veterans

    An Act Regarding Mental Health Care for Maine Veterans

     

    Opioid

    An Act To Allow Corrections Officers To Administer Naloxone

  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

    The official tabulation of votes from the June 13, 2017 Special Referendum Election show that the bond issue was approved overwhemingly by Maine voters.

    The Elections Division has certified the results and Gov. Paul LePage signed the official vote proclamation.

    The certified election results show a total of 63,468 votes in favor of the bond issue, and 39,549 votes in opposition. Voters cast a total of 104,213 ballots in this single-question statewide referendum, with 1,196 blanks.

    Question 1 asked: “Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to provide $45,000,000 in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people, to be awarded through a competitive process to Maine-based public and private entities, leveraging other funds in a one-to-one ratio and $5,000,000 in funds to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation?”

    The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services. Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment. Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability.

    The Elections Division will post the results online this week at http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/index.html.

    The legislation will become law 30 days from the date of the official proclamation (July 21, 2017).

  • Rep. Golden introduces bill to protect workers from wage theft

     

    Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden’s bill introduced his bill to protect workers from wage theft and make sure they are compensated when they become the victim of it to the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee today.

    “People work hard for their money and they should get paid every dollar they have earned,” said Golden, D-Lewiston. “Wage theft is illegal and morally wrong. It’s not just the wages that get stolen; it’s also the respect of being paid for the hard work you put in. We need strong consequesnces to deter employers from committing wage violations in the first place, but also good protections so that workers can speak up and recoup their wages when they aren’t paid what they’ve earned.”

    Golden offered an amendment to the bill at the public hearing. As amended, the measure would increase penalties for violating timely pay statutes to $500 for the first violation and $2,500 for each subsequent violation. It would institute triple damages as remedies for wage theft and allow for an employee’s right to take legal action to recoup wages and damages. It also strengthens protections against employer retaliation for workers who take action against wage violations.

    “An honest day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. Everyone in Maine agrees that workers should be paid their full wages for all of the hours they work,” said Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO. “Unfortunately, wage theft is a serious problem in Maine. Wage theft hurts working people and it gives an unfair advantage to low road employers over honest Maine businesses. We need stronger enforcement to ensure that every worker is paid what they are owed.”

    “In general, businesses in Maine care about their employees and bend over backwards to fix wage mistakes that happen in good faith,” said Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, a co-sponsor of the bill and a member of the committee. “This bill is trying to provide relief for those employees who work for employers trying to game the system by withholding wages. Intentional wage theft is wrong and, if it’s occurring, workers should have protections.”

    Golden is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents part of the city of Lewiston. He is the Assistant House Majority Leader. 

    Sylvester is in his first term in the Maine House and represents District 39, which includes the East End of Portland, Upper Bayside and many of the islands of Casco Bay. He serves on the Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development.

  • Bayside Bowl: Maine's best bowling center just got better with new expansion

    New development features new lanes, new bars, new amenities

    On March 16, 2017, Bayside Bowl officially cut the ribbon on its new expansion.

    “This is a great day for Bayside Bowl, our staff, and our customers,” said Charlie Mitchell, managing partner. “We’ve had tremendous partners in the city, the neighborhood, and in the bowling community. There’s no place in the world I’d rather do business than in Bayside and in Portland.”

    The expansion contains 8-new bowling lanes, a mezzanine overlooking the lanes, an old school arcade and a one-of-a-kind rooftop bar and taco truck. In addition to the new amenities, Bayside Bowl now has a 422-panel roof-mounted solar electric system that will offset an estimated 34 percent of its current annual electric consumption.

    The expansion took ten months to complete, and over that time, more than 350 Mainers from 76 different Maine companies worked on the project. The increased capacity will also allow Bayside Bowl to grow its staff from 28 employees to 38 employees over the coming year.

    “Seven years ago, we had a vision for building the best bowling center in Maine,” said Justin Alfond, co-owner. “With this expansion, we now have three additional bars, an amazing rooftop deck, and stand among the best bowling venues in the country. We are setting a high bar for bowling and for our community.”

    Justin Alfond and Charlie Mitchell - proud co-owners of Bayside Bowl. It's become more than a bowling alley - it's a community center for fun and relaxation for Portland's Bayside.

    Bayside Bowl opened its doors in 2010 as Maine’s premier bowling entertainment center. Since then it has become a community center and the focal point in Bayside to have fun.

    Bayside Bowl is now home to twenty lanes, four full bars, an award-winning kitchen, old school arcade, live music, rooftop bar with taco truck, and Maine’s best bowling league, Bowl Portland.

    In April, Bayside Bowl will host the L.L.Bean PBA League Elias Cup and the MaineQuarterly.com Roth/Holman Doubles Tournament. The entire event will take place from April 9th to April 16th.

    The MaineQuarterly.com Roth/Holman Doubles Championship will start on Monday, April 10th with 32 teams and will culminate with a live ESPN show on April 16, 2017 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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)

  • Maine small business owners call on Sen. Collins to protect ACA after her vote for repeal

     

    On January 12, 2017 at the headquarters of Zootility Tools, a Portland-based manufacturer, Maine small business owners shared their stories why they support the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At the press conference they and called on the state’s congressional delegation, especially Senator Susan Collins, to reject efforts by President-elect Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal the law.

    “There are stories here from small business owners across Maine who couldn’t afford to provide their families with affordable health care before the ACA and can now,” said Will Ikard, head of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “Our representatives are always talking about how they want to help small businesses. Preserving the core of the ACA is a great way to do it.”

    Businesses across Maine depend on their employees being able to get affordable health care and through the ACA.

    “Repealing the Affordable Care Act would mean sicker employees, resulting in more work absences, higher health costs, and lower productivity for small business owners like me,” said Nate Barr, owner of Zootility, whose 20 employees rely on the ACA. “I am asking Senator Collins to do right by the people of Maine and block attempts at repeal.”

    The Maine Small Business Coalition presented over two hundred letters to Senator Collins from small business owners across the state asking her to stand by keeping the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare.

    Hundreds of Maine business owners depend on the ACA for their own healthcare.

    “I can say without a doubt that my family and I are only able to afford decent health care coverage because of the subsidies built into the ACA,” said Cathy Walsh, owner of Arabica Coffee in Portland.

    The event comes after a 51-48 vote by the Senate last night, at 1:30 am, to begin the process of repealing the ACA. Maine's Senators split their votes with Senator Collins casting a yes vote for repeal and Senator King casting a vote against.

    Sen. Angus King said the move “will have disastrous consequences for tens of thousands of people in Maine and millions more across the country.”

    Senator Collins has publicly stated that any repeal of the health care law should coincide with an immediate replacement policy that would continue to provide health care for individuals currently covered by the law. So, there is hope she might not vote for the final repeal if the measure circles around again to the senate, and the Republicans don't have a plan to replace the ACA.

     According to analysis by the Commonwealth Fund and Center for Budget and Policy Priorities 95,000 Mainers lose their health care coverage if the ACA is repealed. Taking away the ACA would also take away the jobs of 13,000 Mainers and would take $565 million out of Maine’s economy in 2019 alone.

    “Loss of all of that economic activity and all of those jobs would mean less money being spent at local small business like mine,” said Barr.

  • Bangor Savings Bank announces move to Bangor Waterfront

     By Ramona du Houx

     Bangor Savings Bank purchased a new property for their headquarters on Bangor's waterfront. Once completed the nearly $20M investment will relocate personal and give the bank room to grow. The investment will rehabilitate existing vacant buildings and add new buildings.

    location for a new Bangor Savings Bank campus," said President and CEO Bob Montgomery-Rice. "For 165 years, Bangor has been our hometown, and investing in the downtown area was important to us. Providing our employees with the space and environment that enhances their ability to do their jobs will benefit our nearly 200,000 customers, which is always our primary objective."

    The announcement was made January 11, 2017 at the banks current headquarters on in downtown Bangor. 

    "Bangor Savings Bank new multimillion dollar investment on the Bangor Waterfront is not only a vote of confidence for Bangor but also a welcome part of the continuing Renaissance of Bangor's waterfront,” said Bangor Mayor Joe Baldacci.

    According to Bangor Savings Bank President and CEO Robert Montgomery-Rice this was a long-term plan based upon the bank’s growth. Now, in need of the space to operate out of they are ready for the move.

    The bank plans to open at their new location by February of 2018.

  • 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.

     

  • 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.”

  • What Bangor, Maine is doing to ease the state's deadly drug epidemic



    Editorial by Joseph M. Baldacci, former Mayor of Bangor now serves on the Bangor City Council
     
    According to the Maine attorney general’s office, 272 Mainers died of drug overdoses in 2015, a 30 percent increase over 2014. This year, we are easily surpassing those figures. On average, one Mainer dies each and every day from a drug overdose.
    In our own community, the fire department has seen use of Narcan — a nasal spray that can save someone from death by overdose — skyrocket in the last five years, from 15 uses of it in 2011 to 57 uses in 2015 to at least 100 uses on suspected overdoses just through Nov. 30, 2016. This spring, the Bangor City Council authorized the police department to also carry Narcan, and, as of Dec. 1, the police department has saved 16 lives with it. In 2015, the Bangor Police Department identified 66 cases as involving a possible overdose. So far this year, we are at 111 cases.
    We are fortunate and thankful to the men and women working as firefighters, paramedics and police officers. They are some of the real heroes of this effort to save lives.
    This is not a political issue, it is a human issue requiring human responses. It is an issue that requires state and national leadership — neither of which we have. Local communities are now forced to handle it with everything we have to save and protect citizens.
    Story continues below advertisement.
    Since 2014, Bangor has been in partnership with the Community Health Leadership Board as well as the hospitals and other nonprofits to better marshall local resources.
    The essential thing is that all of us act constructively and rationally in this effort. Because we have done this, we have made progress. Here’s where:
    Adult drug treatment court
    In 2012, the state closed the drug treatment court in Bangor that helped monitor on a weekly basis dozens of drug offenders as well as assist in their getting treatment. After a successful effort by both the City Council and state legislative delegation, the program has been reinstated, and it will be able to monitor and provide treatment options to at least 30 drug offenders at any one time.
    Law-Assisted Diversion Project
    The city is working on a jail diversion effort in partnership with the Health Equity Alliance. We also are working to fund a substance abuse case manager embedded in the police department. Both efforts will be coordinated with local hospitals and other providers to get nonviolent offenders treatment first, not jail first.
    Detoxification center
    The City Council has supported and sought the establishment of a 10-bed detox center to serve as a first stop for people who commit to recovery. Currently, the only places for people to detox are jail, home or the emergency room. None of those places are equipped to handle the complex needs of someone who is detoxing and establish a continuum of care for them when they leave detox.
    Regional model of continuum of care that increases rural access
    Acadia Hospital has taken the lead and has funding to enlist St. Joseph Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center providers in the provision of Suboxone — an alternative to methadone — in their primary care practice settings. This is currently in progress. Penobscot Community Health Care was awarded a federal grant to expand primary care medication-assisted treatment in its practices as did Health Access Network in Lincoln.
    Recovery
    The city has given strong support to Bangor Area Recovery Network efforts for its peer recovery coaching program. The city awarded funding for this important effort to help people stay clean.
    Early Recovery Treatment & Housing
    In conjunction with community partners, the city is involved in exploring several models to complete the continuum of care after someone is released from detox. We have reached out to the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative and may replicate some of its efforts here. Penquis is our lead partner on this work.
    I am proud of the work of my fellow councilors, along with a hard-working staff that works collaboratively to involve all community partners and has resulted in dozens if not hundreds of saved lives.
  • 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.”

     

  • Maine Attorney General Mills seeks volunteer mediators to help consumers

     Are you interested in helping Maine consumers resolve disputes with businesses?

    The Attorney General’s Office is recruiting volunteer mediators for the Consumer Mediation Service, with the next training next training scheduled for February 2017.

    For more than 30 years the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office has offered a free and voluntary complaint resolution program for Maine consumers, staffed by trained volunteers and overseen by full-time staff.

    Volunteers will mediate consumer complaints over the phone or by mail in the Attorney General’s Augusta Office on a variety of matters including express and implied warranty issues, landlord-tenant, car repairs and car sales, and more. Volunteers will be thoroughly trained in consumer law and mediation techniques at February’s three day training.

    They will then volunteer between 4 to 6 hours per week on a schedule convenient to them during normal business hours under the supervision of members of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.

     

    To learn more about the program and download the application please go to our website -http://www.maine.gov/ag/about/volunteer_mediators.shtml. Applications must be received byJanuary 1, 2017 to be considered for the February class.

     

    Please direct all inquiries to Complaint Examiner Martha Currier at (207) 626-8847 or: Martha.currier@maine.gov

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • Bangor to get license to refuel Trans-Atlantic Flights to Cuba

    July 19, 2016-Bangor International Airport has received a license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury to refuel Trans-Atlantic flights to Cuba.

    “This is great news for Bangor. BGR’s strategic location for technical stops is widely known but for years those planes headed for Cuba were banned from using our facilities. This added business is yet another opportunity for growth at BGR. The recent news of Wayfair’s call center locating on the Airport campus and more expansion at C&L Aerospace emphasizes the importance of BGR as a regional asset," said Airport Committee Chair, Councilor Joseph Baldacci.

    The technical stops by any aircraft at Bangor International destined for Cuba will be allowed to refuel, de-ice, and receive catering and other crew services, but will not be allowed to disembark or load any passengers. 

    “We are very happy that our licensing request to service trans-Atlantic flights to Cuba was approved. This now gives us a level playing field to compete for this business with the Canadian airports that have been able to do this for the last 5 decades,” said BGR Director, Tony Caruso. He went on to say that BGR now has the opportunity to add this business to our list of prospects for technical stops. 

    Bangor International Airport is a full-service regional airport offering non-stop, affordable flights to Detroit, New York’s LaGuardia, Orlando/Sanford, Philadelphia, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Washington DC and seasonally to Chicago and Newark. BGR is the leading airport for trans-Atlantic tech stops. The Airport is an enterprise funded entity operated by the City of Bangor and is supported solely through Airport generated revenue.

  • LLoyd’s Bistro in Damariscotta supports raising Maine’s minimum wage

    By Will Ikard, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which represents more than four thousand small business owners across Maine.

    From an interview  with Torie DeLisle of Van Lloyd’s Bistro in Damariscotta about her restaurant, which she founded in 2015 with her husband August and father-in-law Bernie. Van LLoyd’s is one of more than 60 restaurants across the state that support the campaign to raise Maine’s minimum wage. In June, they participated in the Maine Small Business Coalition’s Fair Wage Restaurant Week.

    What is Van Lloyd’s Bistro?

    Van Lloyd’s is a full-service bistro and cocktail bar in Damariscotta. We see it as an experiment in real food. We believe in making everything from scratch, and allowing our culinary interests to take the menu to places that challenge and delight our diners with our variety and creativity.

    Why do you support the referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage? Since you employee tipped servers, why do you support the effort to gradually phase out the subminimum wage for tipped employees?

    Because it’s the right thing to do. Commission-based mindsets often lead to negative and competitive work environments and encourage workers and owners to think about these job as disposable – not as a long-term position where employees are valued and fairly compensated.

    As small business owners, what do you see as your role in your community?

    To bring people together. As a restaurant, we want to be a place for people to gather and meet others in the community. It always makes us smile when we see separate groups of diners interacting, building connections they did not have before.

    I know you’ve been outspoken about the need for Americans to act to combat the effects of climate change. How does sustainability fit into your business model?

    I think I would have to say that food sustainability is hugely important to August and I personally, and to the business, and we support local organic growers because we want to encourage the sufficiency and sustainability of the region. Not only that, the quality is just so far superior you don’t have to disguise your ingredients by cooking them, you get to showcase their natural beauty. This Summer Van Lloyd’s is foraying into locally farmed sea-greens as a sustainable local product in several dishes.



  • 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.

  • 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.

  • We should be concerned over Poland Spring's contract with Fryeburg Water Co.

    First appeared in the BDN
    The recent Maine Supreme Judicial Court oral arguments regarding the contract between the Fryeburg Water Co., a small water company, and Poland Spring, as part of the Nestle corporation, has spurred information in the media that we believe is alarmist and inaccurate.

    As water utility providers in Maine, we are not concerned or alarmed by the contract between the water system in Fryeburg and a large customer. Here’s why:

    — There are Maine laws and regulations already in place that protect Maine’s natural water resources, including the use of groundwater, that ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of Maine’s water.

    — Maine is water rich, and with 24 trillion gallons of water falling on the state each and every year, our water resources are recharged at least annually, including the groundwater and aquifers. The amount of groundwater used by water utilities and water bottlers each year is less than 1 percent of the entire annual recharge of the groundwater.

    — Many Maine water utilities have contracts in place with large water users, including breweries, carbonated drink manufacturers, ice manufacturers and distributors and water bottlers, which provide an important source of revenue that lower and stabilize water rates for all customers.

    — Maine has many wonderful, renewable natural resources that are exported each year, and each promotes the beauty and pristine nature of our state. Our long and successful history of exporting trees, blueberries, lobsters, potatoes and water are a source of pride, as well as an economic benefit.

    As Maine water utility professionals, we are stewards of Maine’s water resources, and we have a mission of providing safe and adequate drinking water to our customers each and every day. We know our service is essential to life, and we are fortunate to have an abundant source of water. We believe strongly that the contract between Fryeburg Water and Poland Spring is consistent with this mission with no detrimental impact on the environment and our water resources.

    Finally, we are proud that what we do each day in providing clean drinking water to our customers is complemented and promoted with the export of this same pristine natural resource outside the state. The water bottlers in Maine, including Poland Spring, endorse the value of drinking just good ol’ water and in doing so endorse Maine.

  • 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.
  • 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. 

  • $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.

     

  • Four rural Maine businesses to receive a total of $247,702 for Value-Added Agricultural Production from USDA

    Locally Grown farm production in Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

     By Ramona du Houx

    USDA is investing nearly $34 million to help 258 businesses nationwide.  In Maine, four rural agribusinesses have been selected to receive Grants for value-added production activities. 

       “This funding will enable farmers and ranchers to develop new products, improve the bottom line for their operations and help create a robust local and regional food system,” said Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Vernita F. Dore. “Value-Added Producer Grants provide capital to enable ag producers to grow their business through diversification. USDA’s support is especially important for beginning farmers and smaller farm operations.”

       In Maine, four rural agribusinesses have been selected to receive a total of $247,702 for value-added production activities.

     “This investment by USDA Rural Development supports the innovation and vision of these four rural Maine agricultural entrepreneurs who are looking to expand marketing opportunities for their value-added agricultural products. These grants will help contribute to the long-term sustainability of each business and aid in retaining and creating jobs in Maine,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    • Century Elm Farms, dba Boothby's Orchard and Farm located in Livermore has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $48,299. Funds will be used to brand and expand the existing unpasteurized apple cider and winemaking operations through process improvements and enhanced marketing.
    • Maine Top Mill, LLC, located in Waldoboro has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $49,990. Funds will be used to pay for spinning raw alpaca fiber into a very fine yarn with the aid of a marketing campaign and a direct selling e-commerce portal on the company's website. Funds will also be used to produce samples and kits to market.
    • Aroostook Hops, LLC, located in Westfield has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $24,413. Funds will be used to pay 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.
    • Cara Sammons, dba Flying Goat Farm, located in Acton has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $125,000. Funds will 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 can be used to develop new agricultural products or additional markets for existing ones. Military veterans, socially-disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers, operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches, and farmer and rancher cooperatives are given priority when applying for these grants.

       Funding of each award announced today is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.  

       Since 2009, USDA has awarded 1,115 Value-Added Producer Grants totaling $154 million. Approximately 18 percent of the grants and 14 percent of total funding has been awarded to beginning farmers and ranchers. During 2015, more than one-third of Value-Added awards went to farmers and ranchers developing products for the local foods sector.

       Value-Added Producer Grants are a key element of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work on local and regional food systems. These are major contributors to rural economic development. Congress increased funding for the Value-Added program when it passed the 2014 Farm Bill. That measure builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past seven years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.

       Rural Development helped 84 agricultural producers carry out local foods projects in 2014 through almost $8.9 million in Value-Added Producer Grant awards.

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

     Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA Rural Development's web site at http://www.rd.usda.gov/me.

  • 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.

  • 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.  

  • 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."

  • Labor organizations oppose Portland’s Question 2

    Cape Elizabeth lighthouse, Portland Maine, photo by Ramona du Houx 

    The Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council announced its opposition to Portland’s Question 2, joining a growing coalition that includes the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Portland Community Chamber, AARP Maine, Homeless Voices for Justice, GrowSmart Maine, Avesta Housing and members of Portland’s fast-growing entrepreneurial business community.

    “Portland is a great city, but we have to make sure that it continues to be a place where working families can find jobs and afford to live,” said President John Napolitano, who grew up on Munjoy Hill. “Portland’s Question 2 will hurt the entire city, making it harder for people to live and work here and creating unreasonable new hurdles for good projects. Our 4,000 workers around Maine are ready to get involved, knock on doors and spread the word that Portland’s Question 2 is bad for middle-class families and working men and women.”

    The Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council (MSBCTC) was chartered on Jan. 21, 1964, and represents 13 Trade Unions and more than 4,000 workers throughout Maine. MSBCTC is affiliated with Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

    “Portland is taking off as a place where entrepreneurs and startups can be successful, but backwards looking ordinances like Portland’s Question 2 threaten that,” said Jess Knox, co-chair of the No on 2 campaign. “Our city needs to be open to new ideas and thoughtful development. Portland’s Question 2 goes too far and hurts existing businesses and the people who are trying to start new ones.”

    Question 2 would amend the city’s land use ordinances and make it possible for one “affected” property owner or as few as 20 petition signers to block or delay good building projects in the city. In addition, it creates new and unnecessary bureaucracy. 

    “Working men and women should oppose Portland’s Question 2,” Napolitano said. “This ordinance will slow down the economy and cost the city jobs.”

    Affiliated members of the Trade Council include:

    • International Brotherhood of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, Local 6
    • International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers, Local 29
    • International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers, Local 3
    • International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornament, and Reinforcing Iron Workers, Local 496
    • Laborers International Union of North America, Locals 327
    • International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 4
    • International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 35
    • United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada, Local 716
    • United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers, Local 33
    • Sheet Metal Workers' International Association, Local 17
    • Road Sprinkler Fitters, Local 669
    • International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 340
    • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 567 & 1253

    In addition, Iron Workers Local 7 also opposes Portland’s Question 2.

  • Small business owners support toughening clean elections laws with Question 1


    A group of small business owners represented by the Maine Small Business Coalition reiterated their support for Question 1 on this November's ballot. Question 1 would require more disclosure of outside spending in candidate elections; increase penalties for breaking campaign finance laws; and fully fund the state's Clean Elections law.

    "In order for me to compete fairly against big, national chains, I need to have equal access to my government," said Dory Waxman, owner of Old Port Wool and Textile Co. in Portland. "Question 1 will make it more likely that our elected representatives will listen to all Mainers, not just their wealthiest donors."

    Part of the measure would close some ineffective corporate tax loopholes.Yesterday, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce came out against the measure, claiming that closing these tax loopholes would hurt Maine's economy. Bettyann Sheats, owner of Finishing Touches Shower Doors in Auburn, disagrees:

    “This referendum is written so that it will only close tax loopholes which are proven to not help the economy," she said. "But you know what would be good for Maine's small business owners? A tax, budget, and regulatory environment that is not dominated by big, out-of-state businesses. The first step in creating an economy that works for everyone - including small business owners - should be getting the corrupting influence of big money out of politics. Question 1 is a good step in that direction."

    Maine Small Business Coalition represents over 4,000 small business owners across the state and supports federal, state, and local public policy that invests in our communities, keeps our people healthy and productive, and ensures all participants have a voice.

  • Brunswick Landing to become ‘anaerobic digester’ adding to growing regional energy hub

    Construction is underway at Brunswick Landing for a $10 million plant that will convert biological waste into a kind of biogas that's used to generate electricity. The energy produced is projected to serve half of Brunswick Landing's energy needs, during peak hours.

    The Village Green Ventures' 1-megawatt "anaerobic digester" is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Only one other facility like this is in Maine as the various components, the waste and electricity transportation hub, need to be close together.

    The Brunswick Sewer District is expected to supply around 2,400 cubic yards of solid biological waste a year to the power plant, which has an annual capacity of 40,000 cubic yards of solids and an additional 40,000 cubic yards of liquid waste. Casella Organics may also supply waste.

    When the Navy Base, which used to be Brunswick Landing, was closed in 2008 then Governor John Baldacci worked with  the federal government, area officials and businessess to help with the transition. They established a special Pine Tree Economic Zone, giving businessess needed tax breaks to set up or expand in the area. The Baldacci administration helped develop a plan to assist the former base, and surrounding region, into an alternative energy hub. A branch of Southern Maine Community College was established at Brunswick Landing which specialzes in composite technologies- (the stuff wind mills are built with), and solar energy is powering Bowdoin College.(the college has been working with the former base).

    Brunswick Landing has also been granted federal funds for the transition that is proving to be sucessful.

  • Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, E2 Tech get SBA grants

    The Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development said Tuesday that it and E2 Tech are among the winners of the 2015 SBA Growth Accelerator Fund Competition.

    The $50,000 award will fund the operating budget for MCED's Top Gun program-for accelerating high potential Maine companies using mentoring, training and connections. The program is offered in Portland, Bangor and Rockland, and plans are underway to set up a fourth location in Lewiston/Auburn within two years.

    E2Tech, which also won the award, was incubated at MCED.

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree applauded the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and E2Tech for being two of only eight New England winners of the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition. Administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the competition recognizes organizations that work to successfully help start-ups create jobs and become commercially viable. 
     
    “Supporting Maine’s entrepreneurs is key to our state's economic future.  Someone’s brilliant idea could lead into thousands of jobs down the line if they have the help and support they need to turn that idea into a successful business model,” said Pingree.  “I appreciate both the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and E2Tech for providing that support through mentoring, networking opportunities, training, and more. They both have had an impact on moving the state¹s economy forward, and I’m very happy that they are being recognized for it.” 
     
    Congresswoman Pingree also congratulated the City of Rockland for winning the Startup in a Day award. It is one of 25 cities across the country receiving $50,000 to streamline their online permit and licensing processes to allow businesses to start faster and easier. They are the only city or town in Maine to receive the award and one of four in New England.
     
    “This award just shows how Maine’s cities can become incubators for entrepreneurship,” said Pingree. “I hope that Rockland’s example will inspire other cities in Maine to pursue policies that help improve their permitting and licensing process.”
     
    Startup in a Day is an initiative announced by the President earlier this year designed to help cities and Native American communities streamline the licensing, permitting, and other requirements needed to start a business in their areas, with the goal that an entrepreneur can apply for everything necessary to begin a business within one business day.

    The Top Gun program started in 2009 with 12 entrepreneurs in Portland, and it graduated 32 companies this year. The 110 total Top Gun graduates have generated more than $25 million in revenue growth, $7.5 million in capital formation and 100 net new jobs, according to MCED.

    This year the award was given in consideration of the White House Power Initiative to empower entrepreneurs from all walks of life to participate in the innovation economy.

  • MTI, UMaine with MTI launching new startup program

    Photo by Ramona du Houx

    The Maine Technology Institute (MTI) and the University of Maine (UMaine) are launching a startup program—Scratchpad Accelerator—for up to three startups that have "high-growth potential."

    The pilot program, in Bangor, called starts Aug. 31 and will require the four participating businesses to work long days for the following three months. Scratchpad is accepting applications online through Aug. 14, 2015.

    Scratchpad will choose up to four businesses that will receive seed funding, mentoring guidance and daily lessons. The program will also help the businesses fast-track ideas. 

    The program's staff will consist of Jason Harkins, associate professor of entrepreneurship at the Maine Business School; Jennifer Hooper, mentor and entrepreneur coordinator at the UMaine Foster Center for Student Innovation; and Joe Migliaccio, MTI's director of business development.

    To be qualify, Scratchpad applicants must be a current or potential MTI portfolio company and have a team of two-to-three people working on the business full time. In addition, business ideas must have "high-growth potential" over the next decade and "address a market that has total value of more than $100 million.

  • Small businesses announce support for minimum wage ballot campaign in Bangor, Maine

    Elena Metzger, owner of Northeast Reprographics, a print and copy shop in downtown Bangor. Courtesy photo.

    On July 28, 2015, small business owners gathered at The Briar Patch bookstore on Central Street in Bangor to announce their support for the campaign to place a minimum wage increase on the ballot in 2016. Supporters spoke about how raising wages improves their communities and their businesses, and unveiled a list of over 150 small business owners from across the state that are publicly supporting the increase.

    "Raising the minimum wage is a matter of basic fairness for working Mainers, but it would also make a more level playing field for my business," said Elena Metzger, owner of Northeast Reprographics, a print and copy shop in downtown Bangor. "I'm competing against large corporations who are not personally invested in the people or community of Bangor. With a higher minimum wage, these big corporations would have to do the right thing like I already do and provide for their employees."

    The last time the minimum wage was raised in Maine was under Governor John Baldacci in 2009. The current $7.50 is a poverty wage and only .25 cents higher than the federal minimum. People working for minimum wage often are full time workers leaving them no time to progress their lives in other ways. Many have said they would like to earn a college degree but can't even dream to do so on their wages. Many would just like a little cash to shop downtown.

    "We support raising the statewide minimum wage because it's the right thing to do. Anyone who works full-time deserves to be able to support their families and make ends meet. It's only fair," said Gibran Graham, marketing manager for The Briar Patch, who also sits on the Bangor City Council. "It's also good for the local economy. When working Mainers have a little more money in their pockets, they spend it locally at restaurants and stores like this one. The entire community does better."

    In April, the Maine People's Alliance and Maine AFL-CIO submitted paperwork to launch a citizens' 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 tipped minimum wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

    "I want to make sure my friends, family, and neighbors can work full-time and have a chance to get ahead and maybe someday start a business like I was able to do," said Jonathan Fulford, who lives in Monroe and owns Artisan Builders, a custom home building and general contractor service. "That's the American Dream for many and it's not possible on three-hundred dollars a week."

    Signature collection began in early June with a series of grassroots kick off events across the state. In less than two months the campaign has reached the quarter-mark in its goal to collect 85,000 signatures by the January qualifying deadline and has received over 2,000 grassroots contributions totaling more than $170,000 from Mainers across the state, including from hundreds of small business owners.

    "The more than 150 business owners who offered their public support for the campaign at this early stage know that raising the minimum wage will be a boon for businesses and employees alike," said Will Ikard director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which organized the event. "Small business owners know first-hand the benefits of investing in their workers, and we expect this early enthusiasm to grow as the campaign continues."


    The supportive small businesses supporting a wage hike. More can be added by request.

    Ramona du Houx                              Insights- photography/pr/publisher                  Solon

    Paul Cornell du Houx                        Polar Bear & Company- publisher                      Solon

  • Small Businesses To Announce Support for Minimum Wage Ballot Campaign


    On Wednesday, July 29th at 11:30am, small business owners will gather at The Briar Patch book store on Central Street in Bangor to announce their support for the campaign to place a minimum wage increase on the ballot in 2016. Supporters will speak about how raising wages improves their communities and their businesses, and will unveil a list of over 150 small business supporters from across the state. Organizers will distribute campaign signs for owners to put up in their businesses.

    What: Small business event in support of the minimum wage ballot campaign

    When: Wednesday, July 29th, 11:30AM

    Where: The Briar Patch, 27 Central St., Bangor

  • Union solidarity at BIW in Maine

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

    By Ramona du Houx

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally to promote solidarity during the year before the union’s contract expires.

    “The union is behind its leadership, and the company is going to have to negotiate with us and not dictate to us," said Jay Wadleigh, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6. “They need to abide by the contract, stop misleading the media and just work with us so we can get the costs of these ships down. We’re the best shipbuilders in the world. We want to work. We just want to be treated with dignity and respect and be negotiated with and not dictated to.”

    BIW is known as one of the best shipbuilders in America. It's slogan is "Bath Built is Best Built."

    This is the second big march at the shipyard this year. On March 24 nearly 1,000 members of the International Association of Machinists Union Local marched to rallying support and protesting a variety of proposed BIW changes.

    Caps on defense spending have resulted in fewer Naval contracts thus spurring the BIW changes including outsourcing work and cross-training employees.

    BIW says the measures will increase the shipyard’s efficiency and keep the costs of building destroyers competitive. The shipyard insists it needs to be competitive to win two bidding contracts. But the union says there are better ways to cut costs. The stalemate has resulted in a third-party arbitration and a federal lawsuit charging BIW with violating its contract with workers.


    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

  • House Speaker Eve’s “Put ME to Work” proposed law to train workers strongly supported

    Skilled jobs are in need in Maine. Workers, employers, community and education leaders urged support for: PutME to Work- job training bill. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Nearly three dozen workers, employers, community and education leaders packed a legislative hearing on Monday to urge lawmakers to support a new job training initiative to grow good jobs and strong wages in Maine.

    “The second biggest challenge we face is finding a pool of skilled labors to support our operation,” said Backyard President Stuart Jablon of Backyard Farms, a greenhouse grower of tomatoes.  

    House Speaker Mark Eves is spearheading the initiative, LD 1373, “An Act to Create the Put ME to Work Program,” which would invest $5 million over five years to provide job training through public-private partnerships within high demand industries, including logging, forest products, machining, construction and trades, healthcare and agriculture. The measure would also fund scholarships for workers and students to gain the skills they need to fill jobs in these growing sectors.

    “Workers, employers, and community leaders came from across the state to share their message: invest in our workforce,” said Eves. “By investing in training for workers and students in every region of the state, we are putting a down payment on growing the middle class. Maine’s comeback story depends on growing good jobs and strong wages.”

    Eves’ proposal comes as Maine ranks 49th in the nation for jobs recovered since the Great Recession, according to a new analysis released by Pew Charitable Trusts. Wages in Maine also lag ranking 20 percent lower, on average, than wages across the United States.

    Lawmakers heard nearly three hours of testimony in support of the bill from loggers, wood products industry leaders, manufacturers, workers from Bath Iron Works, leaders from the state’s community college system, agriculture industry leaders as well as representatives from the Mayors’ Coalition, the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine and the state’s Chamber of Commerce.

    “Logging is no longer walking into the woods with a lunch pail,” said Jim Nicols, who owns the Nicols Brothers’ logging company in Rumford. “The workers need to have extensive training on complex machines.”

    Technology has changed the lumber industry and skilled labor is critical to meeting the growing needs. Retiring workforce also presented a need for new skilled labor.  

    “The average age of my employees is in the low 50’s. I am going to have to find new operators within the next 5-10 years and right now I have no clue where I am going to find them,” said Douglass Thomas owner of Logging and Forestry in Guilford.

    Eves told the committee that the Put ME to Work bill could help answer the call for a more skilled workforce. He pointed to the success of the public-private partnership between Pratt & Whitney, York County Community College and other local businesses, which is helping to fill 1,200 new area jobs with Maine workers and students. The state invested $330,000 to create a precision machinist training program at the community college for workers and students to get the training needed for the high skilled jobs.

    Barbara Finkelstein, president of the York County Community College, urged lawmakers to mirror the college’s model.

    “Most of the graduates are going right into the industry and already have job offers locally. The have a marked competitive edge as they enter the workforce,” said YCCC President Finkelstein.  “Upon graduating, they can make anywhere between $18 or in the low $20s as a starting rate.”  

    For months, Eves and a group of bipartisan lawmakers have been meeting with employers, workers, and community leaders on a jobs tour across the state to learn how the success of the partnership in York County could be replicated across Maine.

    “On our jobs tour over the last few months, we’ve heard from loggers in Western Maine, from farmers in Central Maine, from forest industry products and wind industry leaders in Northern Maine: The workforce of the future needs to be high skilled. Technology and innovation is at the heart of every growing industry,” said Eves.

    LD 1373 has support from members of both parties and is co-sponsored by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, Senator Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, Senator John Patrick, D-Rumford, Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, Rep. Matt Peterson, D-Rumford, Rep. Bob Saucier, D-Presque Isle, Rep. Roger Sherman, R-Hodgdon, and Rep. Steve Stanley, D-Medway.

    Lawmakers on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee could vote on the bill as early as Thursday.

     

  • Gardiner Food Co-op & Café to recieve $90K grant

    By Ramona du houx

    The Gardiner Food Co-op & Café has been awarded a $90,000 Community Development Block Grant to create new jobs with the opening of its storefront late in May of this year.

     "The co-op project is a perfect example of the convergence of community and economic development."The future economy in Maine will be based on the confluence of quality of place along with balancing a local and global economy," said Gardiner Economic Development Coordinator Patrick Wright.

    Grant funds awarded to the co-op will be used to provide working capital and to acquire much-needed equipment for the storefront at 269 Water St. in the heart of Gardiner's re-emerging historic district. The co-op, which started as the Kennebec Local Food Initiative before coming into its current form over the past three years, has direct access from the municipal parking lot and is seen as an anchor that will provide foot traffic for other downtown businesses.

     CDBG Economic Development Grants are federal grants distibuted through state program which focus on local businesses and economic development infrastructure. Maine's Department of Economic and Community Developement awards the grants and is funded annually through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    The program provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs. In 2014 there were 29 applications received by the CDBG Economic Development Program totaling over $7 million in requests. Of these, 18 applications were funded through the program's $2.7 million allocation.

  • Small business owners voice strong support for "Better Deal for Maine" budget plan

    Clockwise from the speaker: Joel Johnson, Maine Center for Economic Policy, Will Ikard, Maine Small Business Coalition,Jennie Pirkl, Maine People’s Alliance, Melanie Collins, Melanie’s Home Childcare, Falmouth, Bettyann Sheats, Finishing Touches Shower Doors, Auburn, Cathy Walsh, Arabica Coffee, Portland and Toby Alves, Union Bagel, Portland, at a roundtable discussion comparing LePage's proposed Budget with a Better Deal for Maine at Arabica Coffee in Portland on May 11. Courtesy photo.

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    On May 11, 2015, the Maine Small Business Coalition held a roundtable discussion in Portland with local small business owners, State Representative Denise Tepler (D-Topsham), and a budget analyst about Gov. LePage’s proposed state budget. 

    "There are two fundamental problems with the governor's tax reform plan. First, it doesn't adequately target tax cuts to low- and moderate-income Mainers. Second, it would force cuts to education, health care, and other critical services important to Maine people and businesses," said budget analyst Joel Johnson of Maine Center for Economic Policy. "The bottom line is that the “Better Deal” helps create a more fair tax system that ensures proper funding for education, healthcare, and other critical services important to all Maine people and businesses."

    The “Better Deal” proposal prioritizes investment in communities and local economies helping main street businesses. Under the leadership of Gov. Angus King and Gov. John Baldacci it was understood how important basic investments to infrastructure, education, healthcare and public safety were as measures everyone needed to live in Maine. In addition, Maine’s downtown creative economies have been improving the quality of life for all residents ever since Baldacci administration policies, working with lawmakers and small businesses, led to voter-approved bonds helping main streets. 

    "My business depends on state and local investment in public safety, transportation, and education. I rely on local police and fire to keep my business safe, well-maintained roads so my customers can get here, and public education to provide the best possible workforce. I hope legislators will trust small business owners and pass the Better Deal, which would fully fund these priorities,” said Cathy Walsh, owner of Portland's Arabica Coffee.

    Other small business owners also voiced strong support for the "Better Deal for Maine" plan at the meeting. 

    "When Maine families have a little more money, they spend it locally at my store and others like mine. When the super-rich get a tax cut, they invest in their Wall Street portfolios. State government should be focused on getting money into the hands of my customers," said Toby Alves, co-owner of Union Bagel in Portland.

    According to an analysis from the national non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Maine Center on Economic Policy, the “Better Deal” for Maine would cut taxes, on average, for the bottom 95 percent of Maine taxpayers. It would provide a larger tax break than the Governor’s plan, on average, for the bottom 80 percent of Maine taxpayers.

    The “Better Deal for Maine” highlights:

    1. Puts more money in the pockets of Maine families: Lowers property taxes by $120 million annually for Maine residents by doubling the Homestead Exemption for all Maine homeowners and by increasing the Property Tax Fairness Credit by more than $57 million per year.
    2. Invests in Maine's future: Bolsters investment in Maine students, workers and seniors. Increases funding for K-12 education by $20 million per year.
    3. Prevents property tax hikes: Increases revenue sharing to $80 million each year for local services like police, fire, and public works, while rejecting the Governor’s new taxes on non-profits.
    4. Targets income tax cuts for the middle class: Cuts income taxes by hundreds of dollars for the vast majority of Maine families while asking the wealthiest 5 percent to pay their fair share. Under the Better Deal for Maine, 98 percent of income tax cuts go to the bottom 95 percent of taxpayers. Under the Governor’s plan, 50 percent of the tax break goes to the top 10 percent.
    5. Is fiscally responsible: Unlike the Governor’s budget, the Better Deal for Maine is fully paid for now and into the future.

     

     "It was great to have this opportunity to meet with the real drivers of Maine's economy - small business owners - and hear their concerns about tax and budget policy," said Rep. Tepler, who sits on the Taxation Committee. "It is my responsibility as a legislator to support policy that helps Maine's communities and that's why I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting the Better Deal plan."  

  • Minimum Wage Town Hall April 9 in Bangor, Maine

     By Ramona du Houx

    A town hall to consider raising Bangor's minimum wage will take place tomorrow, Wednesday, April 9th, to discuss a minimum wage increase for Mainers.

    A municipal ordinance has been proposed by City Councilor Joseph M. Baldacci to set the city's minimum wage next year to $8.25 an hour.

     "We need to focus on the issue and raise public awareness that the state minimum wage hasn't been increased in the past six years. This is a way to get started and jump-start the conversation," said Baldacci.

    The forum will feature guest speakers, and will allow local residents and business people to share their viewpoints about the issue.

    “Having a real and substantial conversation about raising the minimum wage is a part of a necessary discussion we need to have about raising people’s incomes in general,” said Baldacci. 

    Special guests will include Donato Tramuto of Ogunquit, Maine businessman and global healthcare activist; former Maine Gov. John Baldacci; Jim Wellehan, Auburn, owner of Lamey Wellehan Shoes, a statewide business; and Todd Gabe, Orono, University of Maine professor of economics. Also attending will other state and local legislators. The forum is free and open to the public.

    Details of the event are:

    • Maine's Minimum Wage Town Hall, 5:30-7 p.m.
    • Thursday, April 9, Abraham Lincoln School, 45 Forest Ave. Bangor, Maine
    • Guest speakers with question-and-answer period following
    • Refreshments will be served
    • Free and open to the public

    Earlier this year, Councilor Baldacci proposed a draft ordinance to raise the Bangor minimum wage to $8.25 an hour, effective Jan. 1, 2016, with additional increases to $9 an hour by 2017 and $9.75 an hour by 2018. Under his proposal, the citywide minimum wage thereafter would increase each year in conjunction with the previous year's consumer price index.

    Baldacci acknowledged that other city councilors and some Bangor businesspeople have raised concerns about the draft ordinance. He said he organized the public forum “so we can have a discussion that is more fact-based than emotion-based.”

    The city councilor pointed out that the guest speakers will provide informative perspectives on the issue.

    • Tramuto is CEO and chairman of Physicians Interactive, a Boston-based interactive healthcare company, and a 2015 Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope laureate, He is expected to discuss how health care and low wages form basic middle-class economic issues that need to be addressed.
    • Former Governor John Baldacci will speak about the importance of raising the minimum wage for economic growth. He was the last Governor to raise Maine’s minimum wage in 2009.
    • Wellehan, who owns and operates the highly successful shoe store business in six Maine locations, will speak as a business owner on the advantages of increasing the minimum wage. Founded in 1914, Lamey Wellehan was named Retailer of the Year in 2011 by B.S.T.A., the New England trade group of footwear suppliers.
    • Garrett Martin, the executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, will speak first to give everyone an over view of the minimum wage’s history and why increasing it should spur an increase in all wages.
    • Gabe, professor at the UM School of Economics, will speak about his research concerning the minimum wage and its impact. His academic research areas are regional and community economic development and public finance.
    • Jane Searles, from Women Work and Community, will speak about how critically important raising the minimum wage is for women, particularly single working mothers.

    The event will be recorded by Don Cookson, WZON radio host, and be available after the event. Refreshments are being provided by Frank's Bakery and Gosselin’s Bakery, both of Bangor.


    Baldacci's proposal comes as city councils in Portland, South Portland and Augusta also are discussing raising the local minimum wage. As of 2015, workers in 20 states and the District of Columbia saw increases in local minimum wage requirements. At least 10 city and county governments across the U.S. have raised their minimum-wage requirements during the past two years including Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont in the New England region.

    Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill in 2013 that would have increased the state's minimum wage this year to $9 an hour. The current state minimum wage is $7.50 an hour.

    “This issue needs to be taken seriously,” said Baldacci. “It needs to happen at the local and state level. We need to hear from the people in our community about this.”

    For more information about the Maine Minimum Wage Town Hall, go HERE. 

    For more information about City Councilor Joseph Baldacci, go HERE. 

    For more information about state minimum wage rates, go to HERE

  • Maine craft brewing industry helped with new law

    by Ramona du Houx

     A measure to strengthen and grow Maine’s burgeoning craft brewing industry was enacted by the Maine Senate today.

    The bill, LD 102, An Act To Strengthen the Craft Beer Industry,increases the maximum number of brewing partners a licensed brewery can enter into a tenant-brewery partnership from one to nine.

    “The marketplace is asking for this change. The demand for Maine’s craft brewing industry is exploding--and this measure is a win-win for everyone involved,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland, the sponsor of the bill. “Giving larger breweries the ability to fully utilize their manufacturing facilities helps small brewers and entrepreneurs take the next step toward a successful, profitable business.”

    During the 126th Legislative session, Senator Alfond passed a bill (LD 1548) to legalize these “alternating brewing partnerships” that allow large breweries to share equipment and supplemental employees with a tenant-brewer while retaining the independence of the  tenant-brewer with regards to recipes, materials, quality control, packaging, shipping, record keeping, and compliance. The bill came as a result of legally aligning a tenant-brewer relationship between Peak Organic Brewing and Shipyard Brewing.

    Since the passage of LD 1548 last year, Shipyard Brewing has been approached by other craft brewers seeking a similar arrangement to Peak Organics; however, under statute, Shipyard is limited to only one tenant-brewer. If passed by the full Legislature, LD 102 would remove that restriction.

    During the committee’s discussion of the bill, Republican State Representative Jonathan Kinney of Limington thanked Senator Alfond for putting forth a good “economic jobs bill.”

    The bill  LD 102, An Act To Strengthen the Craft Beer Industry,will now go to the Governor for his signature.

  • USDA Rural Development has $11 million to Invest in Maine

    USDA Rural Development in Maine has $11,085,080 immediately available in loan guarantees for eligible Maine businesses through partnerships with local lending institutions.

    USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel said, “This increased level of Program funding represents a significant opportunity for Maine businesses seeking funding for a wide variety of purposes. The Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan Program can assist with business growth, development, and improvements, ultimately saving and creating jobs in their community.”

         Eligible entities include any type of legally organized business entity and individual business owners located in a community of 50,000 or fewer population.

    Recently, exceptions were granted in southern Maine allowing for some areas to become entirely eligible, despite their proximity to Portland which is not eligible. They are: Freeport, Yarmouth, Cumberland, Windham, Gorham, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, and Biddeford. Additionally, rural areas of the following communities also remain eligible: Falmouth, Westbrook, Scarborough, and Cape Elizabeth.

    A recent example of what the Business & Industry Guaranteed Program can do is demonstrated by Front Street Shipyard, located on Belfast’s waterfront. The working boatyard utilized a USDA Rural Development Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan in partnership with Androscoggin Bank in the amount of $10 million to refinance and support its boat constructing and marina operations. This project was critical to supporting 114 local marine industry jobs and a key part of the City’s development plan. 

    The purpose of USDA Rural Development’s Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan Program is to improve, develop, or finance business, industry, and employment and improve the economic and environmental climate in rural communities. Business and Industry Guaranteed Loans are made by Maine lenders and guaranteed by USDA Rural Development. Loan purposes must be consistent with the general purpose contained in the regulation, including but not limited to: 

    • Business and industrial acquisitions when the loan will keep the business from closing, prevent the loss of employment opportunities, or provide expanded job opportunities;
    • Business conversion, enlargement, repair, modernization, or development;
    • Purchase and development of land, easements, rights-of-way, buildings, or facilities; and
    • Purchase of equipment, leasehold improvements, machinery, supplies, or inventory.

          For more information, or to receive application materials, please contact Cheryl Pelletier at cheryl.pelletier@me.usda.gov or 764-4157 ext. 4.  

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

  • PUC gives in to LePage, reverses wind energy contracts

    Kibby Wind Farm, in Western Maine, opened in 2010 and has given thousands back to the communities it serves with programs and TIFF's- tax incentives.  Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Top Maine lawmakers in the State House denounced the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state's energy regulator that is mandated not to make political decisions,  for caving to Governor Paul LePage’s demands to reopen bids on two approved wind contracts. 

    The three-member commission, which is supposed to be independent, reversed its decision in a 2-1 vote. The PUC previously approved contract terms with SunEdison and NextEra for wind projects in Hancock County and Somerset County. That approval allowed the parties to begin negotiating final contracts with Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine. A lot of work they never would have undertaken if they new LePage was going to pull the plug on. The contracts, which were approved two months ago, would have helped to lower electric costs for Maine consumers by $69 million and create jobs.

    “The Public Utilities Commission is meant to serve the public’s interest – not the governor’s ideology. Maine should be open for all businesses – not just the businesses the governor favors,” said House Speaker Mark Eves. “He is throwing away real energy savings and jobs that Maine needs. Just as we saw when he meddled with StatOil, he is putting hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investment in our state at risk.”

    Newly appointed PUC Commissioner Carlie McLean - former legal counsel to LePage  - joined the Commission’s Chair and LePage appointee Mark Vannoy to reverse the decision. Commissioner David Littell voted against the re-opening the bid.

    “I’m disappointed to see Commissioner McLean overturn a decision with so little evidence and put future energy business contracts in jeopardy,” said Mark Dion, House Chair of the Legislature’s Energy Utilities and Technology Committee. “This creates an unpredictable environment for future business contracts.”

    According to a letter from LePage to the Commission obtained by MPBN,  LePage attempted to persuade the commissioners to ignore language in the law that directs them to consider new renewable energy sources.

    LePage wrote, "I request that you expand your current request for proposals to include any clean resource, including existing hydropower and nuclear, and review whether these potential contracts could have benefits for the ratepayers in Maine and our broader economy." 

    Nearly 50 individuals and businesses submitted comments warning that re-opening the bid would create economic uncertainty.

    “Shame on the PUC and Gov. LePage for once again yanking the welcome mat out from under two substantial businesses. Broken promises like these do nothing to reassure business that their capital is welcome here. In fact, decisions like these tarnish our reputation and scare off future opportunities,” said State Senator Dawn HIll.

     Statoil, which promised to invest $120 million to develop offshore wind technology in Maine took its investments overseas to Scotland, because LePage pushed through legislation that took away a contract Statoil had made with the PUC.

  • Invest in job creation, not LePage's cost-shift tax policy

    Editorial by Ramona du Houx

    Cutting taxes, most everyone would agree, could be a great idea. But how do you go about it without placing more burden on the middle class? Not with LePage’s plan. While LePage is trying to tackle the issue, his plan is focused on benefiting the top 2 percent. With his proposal, those earning $50,000 to $175,000 will be taxed at the highest tax rate. And those earning about $10,000 to $50,000 would pay — the same tax rate — as the top 2 percent. So a school teacher earning $26,000 will pay the same rate as a successful investment banker who would get a 2.2 percentage-point cut to his tax rate. With the elimination of the estate tax, the top 2 percent will receive a boon. LePage already cut the tax rate for the wealthiest — this is the second round — and again the middle class will carry the burden.

    And he plans to stop sending any funding to municipalities for essential services. This cost-shifting will end up, as it has been, in property tax increases. When LePage was mayor of Waterville, he ranted against any mention of cutting back the funds to cities from the state. Oh, the costs that shifting circumstances have on some politicians!

    What will hurt people on a day-to-day basis is the sales tax increase to 6.5 percent. While I love going to the movies, I do not relish paying an expanded sales tax for my ticket. To have your hair done, go to a concert or visit a museum, you’ll have to pay sales tax. Just to get the snow removed, hire an accountant or lawyer or get a tow to the mechanic will cost you that sales-tax increase.

    This tax plan is backwards. While it appears to expand tax relief for the less fortunate, those same people will have to pay for the increased sales tax, and if they own a home or business — very significantly increased property taxes, and many of their benefits will also be slashed with health-program cuts.

    Back in 2009, Governor John Baldacci and Democratic lawmakers came up with a similar plan. The big difference was that the plan did not stop revenue-sharing to cities. It did not increase property taxes, and it did not cut back on essential services. Yet, it cut taxes for all tax-paying citizens, eliminating them for the less fortunate.

    But because it raised the sales tax, Republicans went to work and flooded the airwaves with ads declaring certain services would skyrocket. So, real tax relief for all never happened, as the right-wing ad factory led the public to believe they would be paying a lot more because of sales taxes. The opposite was true.
     

    A recent analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy evaluated the local tax burden in every state. According to the study, in 2015 the poorest fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes; the middle fifth will pay 9.4 percent, and the top 1 percent will average 5.4 percent.

    “States and localities have regressive systems because they tend to rely more on sales and excise taxes, which are the same rate for rich and poor alike. Even property taxes, which account for much of local tax revenue, hit working- and middle-class families harder than the wealthy because their homes often represent their largest asset,” reads the report.

    This ideological battle is being waged across the nation and involves the right wing promoting the economics of austerity over investing in people and programs in innovation that can grow the economy.

    Baldacci had it right. He consolidated administrations from school districts to branches of state government. He got the prison system to work together, and stopped agencies from duplicating work, while getting bond initiatives passed that would go on to help research and development (R&D) — the type of research that led to the University of Maine’s breakthroughs in bio-fuels and composite technologies. The VolturnUS offshore floating wind turbine is the first of it’s kind in the Americas, and so is The Ocean Renewable Power Company’s tidal power generator. Both were developed at UMaine laboratories; both received state bond funding to jumpstart them. And federal grants happened directly afterwards.

    Maine’s innovative technologies began to really take off after 2007, with voter-approved bonds. The  $50 million investment became know as the Maine Technology Asset Fund and nourished growing sectors of high-wage jobs.

    The funds were rewarded on a competitive basis to university labs, businesses, and nonprofit groups with plans approved by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The recipients of the fund’s grants secured more than $80 million in matching funds. A 2011 evaluation of Maine’s R&D investments found that these 29 projects, which were granted funding by mid-2011, had directly created 289.5 jobs and preserved 303 jobs in traditionally higher-paying sectors. Nineteen of those projects had led to the creation of a new product or service.

    But the Maine Technology Asset Fund hasn’t received a new infusion of funds since 2010. A legislative committee formed in 2006 outlined an R&D strategy for the state and recommended a $50 million annual bond investment in the Maine Technology Institute.

     Community Colleges received bond funding for their expansions, which has enabled thousands to get good-paying jobs. Gov. Baldacci put in new job-training initiatives, which have worked, but as the workplace changes and new tech jobs emerge, more needs to be done.

    Cutting taxes for the top 2 percent has not yielded jobs for Maine or the nation. This sector of society already has been given many chances to prove their "trickle-down" economics. America has experienced job growth for over four years with President Barack Obama’s policies. Maine has been held back because of the trickle-down mantra LePage follows.

    At a recent press conference, Democrats said they have proposed bills for job training, workforce development, college affordability, and job creation. No doubt they will include R&D bonds in this mix.

    All lawmakers should remember we had significant job growth before the Great Recession, and that was largely due to Baldacci’s policies. The state is in need of a real R&D bond package. And interest rates are historically low with the Fed at the zero-lower bound. The ongoing ripple effect in the economy from bond investments has been proven to create new companies with new jobs.

  • FairPoint strikers caroling at Maine executive's home

      The striking workers of FairPoint Communications hope to bring some Christmas cheer today to the company’s top executive in Maine. A group of FairPoint workers will be caroling at the Winslow home of Mike Reed, state president for FairPoint in Maine.

     
    “All we want for Christmas is a fair deal for New England,” said Peter McLaughlin, chair of System Council T-9 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “We hope Mike Reed will feel the same Christmas spirit we do, but just in case we’ll also be bringing some lumps of coal.”
     
    The FairPoint strike is now in its tenth week and Christmas Day will mark the 70th day of the strike. The FairPoint workers have offered more than $200 million in cost-saving compromises, but the company has never modified its initial demand in negotiations for $700 million in deep and damaging cuts.
     
    Support for the workers has grown dramatically during the strike. Donations to the relief fund have now topped more than $200,000, and Christmas toy drives by the workers’ unions — the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America — have received more than 2,500 presents from supporters across the country.
     
    “The company thought they could steal our Christmas, but our many, many supporters in New England and across the country made sure that didn’t happen,” said Don Trementozzi, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1400.
     
    Support for the FairPoint strikers has been solidifying among the region’s elected leaders as well:

    • Last Friday, Maine U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree wrote a powerful letter to FairPoint CEO Paul H. Sunu blasting the company's “unwillingness to compromise” and questioning its fitness to fulfill government contracts without its real workers on the job.  
    • On Monday, New Hampshire’s U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Ann Kuster sent a joint letter to FairPoint CEO Paul H. Sunu, saying, “Clearly, FairPoint’s impasse with its workers is having a negative impact on both the company and its customers.”

    The FairPoint workers have been on strike since October 17. They began negotiations for a new contract in April, and from the outset FairPoint executives pushed to slash benefits for current workers, impose deep pay cuts on new employees and promote the outsourcing of good jobs to poorly paid and unqualified contractors.

    The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T-9 includes local unions in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and represents nearly 1,700 employees at FairPoint Communications. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1400 represents nearly 300 FairPoint employees in the three states. For more information, visit www.FairnessAtFairpoint.com.

  • U.S. and Cuba start new approach to relations – Maine started the process back in 05’

     Governor Maine Governor John Baldacci stands next to President Fidel Castro in 2005. Also from Maine in the photo are State Rep. Eddie DuGay and Rep. John Richardson- pubic photo

    By Ramona du Houx

    After 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of Cold War politics to find a new relationship between the United States and the Communist island nation- just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

    “I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result. These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” said President Obama. “It’s time for a new approach.”

    That approach actually started with a Maine trade mission in 2005 with then Governor John Ellis Baldacci. The state helped the sale of agricultural products to Cuba, including prized cattle from Waldo County, on behalf of Maine businesses. The trip was the first trade mission to Cuba with a sitting American Governor.  Baldacci willingly took the political flack from Republican pundits for going. The governor knew it was far more important to open up markets for Maine businesses and start relations with the island.

    He said normalization of relations with communist Cuba must come “one step at a time,” after he signed the trade agreement with the authorities.  In that agreement Alimport, Cuba’s food import company, agreed to buy Maine products worth $20 million by the end of July 2007.

    Baldacci said he wanted Maine to be a leader in the process of further opening trade with Cuba. “We’re working within the existing framework, trying to show other states the ability to trade with Cuba, and gain from Maine leadership. We hope to demonstrate how important this is,” said Baldacci at a news conference at the time.

    A 2000 law passed by Congress, which Baldacci who was a Congressman then voted for, allows American food to be sold directly to the island on a cash basis. Maine was the first state to declare, by legislative resolution in 2001, support for bilateral trade with Cuba and urge an end to the U.S. embargo. Maine farmers and business representatives were in favor of Baldacci’s trade mission.

     “If we continue to take these steps, we will become much closer. One step at a time,” said Baldacci of the relationship with the island nation on December 12, 2005.

    On December 17, 2014 President Obama announced that the United States would restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century.

    As part of the negotiations, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government.

    “I think this is as good first step,” said Former Gov. John Baldacci. “Cuba is in our hemisphere and we need to develop better relations. It will help lead to more Maine export markets and travel business.”

    However, the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now. Obama did call for an “honest and serious debate about lifting” it. In addition he said, “We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.  In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.”

    "Normalizing relations with Cuba will help boost trade between our two countries, which benefits everyone. But the President can only go so far, and ultimately Congress should lift the 50 year-old economic embargo, a misguided policy which has benefited neither the United States or the Cuban people. Even Alan Gross, who lost five years of his life in a Cuban prison, called for an end to what he described as a "mutually belligerent" policy," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

    Pingree has visited Cuba twice. In 2003 she traveled to the country as a member of the 21-person delegation from to promote economic development and cutltural understanding. Nearly ten years later she returned to the island as a Member of Congress to inspect the U.S. Military base at Guantanamo Bay.

    Castro spoke to his people at the same time Obama addressed Americans.

     “We have been able to advance the solutions of some themes of interest to both nations. This decision of President Obama deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.” But he added, “The blockade which causes much human and economic damage to our country should cease.”

    The announcements came directly after an American contractor Alan P. Gross was released after being in a Cuban prison for five years. Gross returned home to the United States as the United States sent back three Cuban spies who had been in an American prison since 2001. The Cuban spies were swapped for a United States intelligence agent who had been imprisoned for nearly 20 years. The freed US spy was responsible for the capture of these, and two other Cuban spies. 

    The full announcement from President Barack Obama:

      Good afternoon.  Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.

    In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.  Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

    There’s a complicated history between the United States and Cuba.  I was born in 1961 –- just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime. Over the next several decades, the relationship between our countries played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and America’s steadfast opposition to communism. We are separated by just over 90 miles. But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.

    Meanwhile, the Cuban exile community in the United States made enormous contributions to our country –- in politics and business, culture and sports.  Like immigrants before, Cubans helped remake America, even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind.  All of this bound America and Cuba in a unique relationship, at once family and foe.

    Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else.  And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.  Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago.

    Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.  Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China –- a far larger country also governed by a Communist Party.  Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation.

    That’s why -– when I came into office -– I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy.  As a start, we lifted restrictions for Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba.  These changes, once controversial, now seem obvious. Cuban Americans have been reunited with their families, and are the best possible ambassadors for our values.  And through these exchanges, a younger generation of Cuban Americans has increasingly questioned an approach that does more to keep Cuba closed off from an interconnected world.

    While I have been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way –- the wrongful imprisonment, in Cuba, of a U.S. citizen and USAID sub-contractor Alan Gross for five years. Over many months, my administration has held discussions with the Cuban government about Alan’s case, and other aspects of our relationship.  His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years.

    Today, Alan returned home –- reunited with his family at long last.  Alan was released by the Cuban government on humanitarian grounds.  Separately, in exchange for the three Cuban agents, Cuba today released one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba, and who has been imprisoned for nearly two decades.  This man, whose sacrifice has been known to only a few, provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today, as well as other spies in the United States. This man is now safely on our shores.

    Having recovered these two men who sacrificed for our country, I’m now taking steps to place the interests of the people of both countries at the heart of our policy.

    First, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

    Where we can advance shared interests, we will -– on issues like health, migration, counterterrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response.  Indeed, we’ve seen the benefits of cooperation between our countries before.  It was a Cuban, Carlos Finlay, who discovered that mosquitoes carry yellow fever; his work helped Walter Reed fight it. Cuba has sent hundreds of health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola, and I believe American and Cuban health care workers should work side by side to stop the spread of this deadly disease.

    Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly -– as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.  But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.  After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.  It’s time for a new approach.

    Second, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  This review will be guided by the facts and the law. Terrorism has changed in the last several decades.  At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction.

    Third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.  This is fundamentally about freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement.  With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island.  Nobody represents America’s values better than the American people, and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.

    I also believe that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people.  So we’re significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.

    I believe that American businesses should not be put at a disadvantage, and that increased commerce is good for Americans and for Cubans.  So we will facilitate authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions.  And it will be easier for U.S. exporters to sell goods in Cuba.

    I believe in the free flow of information. Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.  So I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba.  Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.

    These are the steps that I can take as President to change this policy.  The embargo that’s been imposed for decades is now codified in legislation. As these changes unfold, I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.

    Yesterday, I spoke with Raul Castro to finalize Alan Gross’s release and the exchange of prisoners, and to describe how we will move forward.  I made clear my strong belief that Cuban society is constrained by restrictions on its citizens. In addition to the return of Alan Gross and the release of our intelligence agent, we welcome Cuba’s decision to release a substantial number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban government by my team.  We welcome Cuba’s decision to provide more access to the Internet for its citizens, and to continue increasing engagement with international institutions like the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross that promote universal values.

    But I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans.  The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there. While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.

    Moreover, given Cuba’s history, I expect it will continue to pursue foreign policies that will at times be sharply at odds with American interests.  I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight.  But I am convinced that through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.

    To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy.  The question is how we uphold that commitment.  I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.  Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  Even if that worked -– and it hasn’t for 50 years –- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.  We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities. In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.

    To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship.  Some of you have looked to us as a source of hope, and we will continue to shine a light of freedom.  Others have seen us as a former colonizer intent on controlling your future.  José Martí once said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest.”  Today, I am being honest with you.  We can never erase the history between us, but we believe that you should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination.  Cubans have a saying about daily life:  “No es facil” –- it’s not easy.  Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.

    To those who have supported these measures, I thank you for being partners in our efforts.  In particular, I want to thank His Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is; the government of Canada, which hosted our discussions with the Cuban government; and a bipartisan group of congressmen who have worked tirelessly for Alan Gross’s release, and for a new approach to advancing our interests and values in Cuba.

    Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas.  This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas.  But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.  And I call on all of my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the Inter-American Charter. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.  A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together -- not to maintain power, not to secure vested interest, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.

    My fellow Americans, the city of Miami is only 200 miles or so from Havana.  Countless thousands of Cubans have come to Miami -- on planes and makeshift rafts; some with little but the shirt on their back and hope in their hearts. Today, Miami is often referred to as the capital of Latin America.  But it is also a profoundly American city -– a place that reminds us that ideals matter more than the color of our skin, or the circumstances of our birth; a demonstration of what the Cuban people can achieve, and the openness of the United States to our family to the South.  Todos somos Americanos.

    Change is hard –- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations.  And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders. But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do.  Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.

    Thank you.  God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

  • Ramona du Houx exhibits lightgraphs at Berry’s in Waterville, Maine

     

    By Morgan Rogers

     

    The inside gallery at Berry's Stationers 153 Main St, downtown Waterville, features the artwork, Ramona du Houx, until December 30, 2014. 

    Ramona du Houx creates fine art photography that looks like watercolor paintings evoking mystery and a sense of wonder. Many find them nostalgic and some mystical.

    Ramona is currently represented by Gallery Storks of Tokyo, Japan and is also a member of the Maine Artist Collaborative where she exhibits regularly at the Constellation Gallery in Portland, Maine.

     “For me art reflects where we live in our communities, as well as where an artist is in their heart, mind and soul,” said Ramona. “In 1979 I began to paint with my camera to depict the interconnectedness of nature. I took the initial results to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where they recorded them long ago. The continuing results have been unpredictable, intriguing, and thought provoking.” 

    The watercolor technique is always a challenge.

    “I never know exactly what the results will be, that’s the exciting part of the creation,” said du Houx. “I believe every photograph has an audience, someone the work will speak to personally.”

    Berry’s show space offers local artists a friendly venue to exhibit their work and a way to continue to grow Waterville’s creative economy. With Colby College’s new museum, and Common Street Arts, Waterville is gaining attention as a place to visit for art.

    “We believe in our community and holding shows for artists can help grow the creative economy of Waterville,” said Michael, owner of Berry's Stationers.

    Dream Sail by Ramona du Houx

    Customers rely on the quality work of the Berry's Stationers art suppliers and framers. They entrust the craftspeople who work there with precious mementos to create a unique way to display it for their lifetimes.

    Berry's Stationers team matches mat colors and frames for any job they work on and they always take the time to listen to customers to ensure they get what they are looking for. Michael bought the business back in the 70’s. He’s a perfectionist in his framing craft and an avid photographer.

    "Matching up someone’s art with the right mat and frame gives me a lot of pleasure. Finding out exactly what the customer needs and then succeeding makes it so worthwhile,” said Michael. 

    While other framers have closed their doors due to big box stores and chains, The Berry's Stationers continues. The quality customer service and extra care he and his father take in framing creates prized items for many people.

    Berry's Stationers is open Monday thru Friday from 9:00am - 5:00pm. And Saturday from 9:00-3.00pm. And until Christmas they are open on Sundays.

    For more of Ramona’s photography please visit: HERE 

     

  • Maine's BIW gets additional $8 million for stealth destroyer deckhouse

    Photo courtesy BIW

    By Ramona du Houx

    The U.S. Navy has awarded Bath Iron Works an add.itional $8 million for the compleation of the deckhouse for the USS Michael Monsoor stealth destroyer. The DDG 10001 deckhouse is made mostly from composite materials.  

     “The award will allow us to continue to work on the integration and completion of the DDG 1001 deckhouse," said spokesperson Matt Wickenheiser.

    BIW completed the first of three Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers last spring. The Navy has a long history of awarding contracts to BIW, the shipyard that is known for its quality craftsmanship. Maine's congressional delegation always lobby in favor of securing these contracts which have helped Maine's largest private employer. Often parts of the ships are compleated and sent to BIW to be assembled onto the hull.

    The deckhouse, was built at Huntington Ingalls Industries in Gulfport, Mississippi, and arrived at the Bath shipyard by barge last September. Then it was lifted by huge cranes  onto the destroyer’s hull. 

    BIW has a stong labor union. Work on the deckhouse is expected to be completed by January 2017.

  • FairPoint refused to compromise at negotiating table in Boston

     

     FairPoint protesting about unfair cuts during a strike protest in Boston, November 20th.

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    FairPoint officials refused to modify their demand for $700 million in cuts at a negotiation meeting November 18, 2014, in Boston, Mass. A federal mediator arranged the meeting, which was an attempt to jump-start contract talks that FairPoint abruptly ended this summer.

    FairPoint’s nearly 2,000 union workers have been on strike since October 17 because of the company's unfair practices. The workers are calling on FairPoint to return to the table and negotiate an agreement that maintains good jobs and quality service for New England.

    “The company began these talks demanding $700 million in crippling cuts, and today they’re still making the same demand,” said Peter McLaughlin, Chair of System Council T-9 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). “They’re not trying to find common ground with us, they’re trying to turn good middle-class jobs into low-wage jobs with bare-bones benefits.”

    The company walked away from negotiations with its union workers in August and imposed proposals that slash all workers’ benefits and cut pay for most new employees by more than 20 percent.

    "If FairPoint cuts the pay of new employees by 20 percent and slashes the benefits of all workers, they're going to lose their highly skilled workers. And we're seeing what a disaster that would be during this strike. Low-paid, unqualified contractors can't provide the high-quality service our customers deserve," said Peter McLaughlin, Chair of the Fairpoint workers' bargaining team.

    Before going on strike, the workers spent nearly two months trying to reopen talks with the company.

    “This North Carolina company can keep dragging its heels, but we will win a fair deal for New England,” said Mike Spillane, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2326 in Vermont. “We will not allow them to outsource the good jobs of New England and turn them into temp jobs filled by out-of-state contractors.”

    “FairPoint’s attack on its skilled workers is an attack on the customers we serve,” said Don Trementozzi, President of Communications Workers of America Local 1400. “FairPoint’s executives need to understand northern New England’s telecom network isn’t their own personal profit center. It’s the lifeline of the people we serve.”

    FairPoint, a North Carolina-based company largely owned by Wall Street hedge funds, has hired replacement workers during the strike, but they are struggling to maintain the company’s network. There have been reports of widespread service interruptions and long lag times fixing storm-related outages.

    “You can’t run a high-tech company with low-wage workers,” said Glenn Brackett, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire. “Every day they prolong this strike is one more day they’re forcing substandard service on our customers in northern New England.”

    Throughout the contract talks, which began in April, FairPoint has insisted on $700 million in deep and damaging cuts. The union has offered $200 million in cost savings, but the company has refused to make a single substantive compromise in bargaining. 

    After the breakdown of negotiations FairPoint strikers mounted two actions on November 20 ,2014. IBEW President Edwin D. Hill is headed a major rally in Montpelier, VT, and a delegation of workers and allies were back in Boston where they protested against the telecom company’s biggest shareholder.

  • First Circuit Court determines young adults remain covered under ACA in Maine

    The state of Maine must provide Medicaid coverage to several thousand low income 19- and-20-year-old young adults according to a ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. 

    "We deny the petition for review and find no constitutional violation," wrote the Court in it’s determination.

    Maine Attorney General Janet Mills agreed that the federal government's action was appropriate.

    Maine tried to drop the young adult coverage in 2012, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services disapproved. That’s when the state petitioned for review on constitutional grounds.

    The First Circuit found that a state's ability to set conditions of eligibility for participation in a federal health insurance program is "not a core sovereign state function."

    Furthermore the federal Health and Human Services Secretary said that the state was a violation of the Affordable Care Act, which requires states accepting Medicaid funds to maintain their eligibility standards for children until 2019. 

    "Maine has covered these young adults for over 20 years, and dropping the coverage now clearly violates the provisions of the AffordableCare Act," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "This is good news for thousands of low-income 19- and 20-year olds who faced theloss of health care coverage." 

    Pingree wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebellius in 2012 urging the rejection of the state's waiver, saying "elimination of Medicaid coverage would not only adversely affect the health and wellbeing of Maine residents and upset Maine’s local economies, it would also be in direct violation of the maintenance of effort requirement, even in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling."

  • FairPoint strikers take action in NYC against hedge fund Angelo, Gordon

    - Protest highlights hypocrisy of the Wall Street hedge fund, which manages billions in public pension funds even as FairPoint tries to gut worker pensions  

     The FairPoint strike in northern New England spilled over onto the streets of New York City today. Dozens of union activists descended on a conference attended by officials of Angelo, Gordon, the Wall Street hedge fund that owns the biggest stake in FairPoint, the troubled telecom company.

     
    “The hypocrisy of Angelo, Gordon is appalling,” said Chris Shelton, Vice President of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) for District 1, which includes New England and New York. “They want to make huge profits by investing public employees' pensions, and then they stand by while FairPoint tries to gut workers' pensions and end retiree health care. This is a betrayal of their investors and the public and we will expose it at every opportunity."

    The union activists rallied in front of the Union League Club at 37th Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan as the 2014 CIO Leaders in Alternative Investing Summit got under way on Wednesday morning.
     
    Angelo, Gordon owns nearly 20 percent of FairPoint’s shares and has a nominee on the company’s board of directors. The Wall Street hedge fund also manages a portion of the New York State Common Retirement Fund (CRF), the nation’s third largest public pension fund.
     
    In September, New York State Comptroller and CRF Trustee Thomas P. DiNapoli sent a letter to Angelo, Gordon expressing his concerns about the hedge fund's behavior. DiNapoli urged the firm to “take all actions appropriate to your role as a substantial shareholder in FairPoint to assure the CRF and other Angelo, Gordon investors that FairPoint is treating its workers fairly and in compliance with the law.”
     
    Angelo, Gordon and other prominent Wall Street hedge funds — which collectively own nearly 50 percent of FairPoint stock — secured their substantial shares in the company after it went bankrupt in 2009. Money managers from several of the other hedge funds invested in FairPoint also attended Wednesday's day-long meeting.
     
    “FairPoint and its Wall Street investors want to turn good middle-class jobs into low-wage jobs with meager benefits," said Peter McLaughlin, Chairman of System Council T9 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents nearly 1,700 striking FairPoint workers in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. "Angelo, Gordon and other hedge funds invested heavily in FairPoint as it came out of bankruptcy. Their model is buy low, sell high, and they don't care about the consequences for New England's working families or customers."
     
    FairPoint workers believe Angelo, Gordon has the power to help bring a resolution to this dispute, but so far, it has refused to publicly intervene. The workers and their allies are calling on the firm to reconsider its position and stop FairPoint’s attack on the working families of northern New England.
     
    "We are here today to send a message to FairPoint's Wall Street investors," said Dennis Trainor, Assistant to the Vice President of District 1 of the CWA. "We will continue to support our sisters and brothers in northern New England as long as this struggle for good jobs and quality service continues. Their fight is our fight against these wolves of Wall Street."

  • Striking FairPoint employees fear replacement workers can’t handle complications of looming storm

    By Ramona du Houx - October 21st, 2014
    Tuesday marks the fifth day of a strike against FairPoint Communications by nearly 2,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The strike began last Friday after FairPoint walked out of negotiations and unilaterally imposed contract terms that cut retiree health care, froze pensions, and increased health care costs.

    Hundreds of FairPoint employees continue to picket 12 hours a day at dozens of sites across Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. They have been joined by supporters from other unions in the region and by elected leaders, including Members of Congress from Maine Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree and New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan. 
     
    With the arrival of the season’s first nor’easter this week, experienced technicians are expressing concern that FairPoint’s replacement workers will be unable to handle the challenges that come with high winds and heavy rain.
     
     “With the impending storm, generators are key to keeping DSL and phone lines working. If I were at work right now, I’d be talking to my foreman and testing generators and conducting important system checks to make sure they’re ready to go out into the field. I’m not sure the replacement workers have the experience to know how to prep for a storm around here. A lot of them are from outside the area and not familiar with our equipment,” said Chris Whidden, a Lewiston, Maine-based service technician who has been on the job for 19 years.
     
    Whidden went on to talk about the local knowledge that’s vital to keeping people connected. 

    "We know exactly where the trouble spots are—where back-up batteries are weakest and where phone and DSL lines are most likely to go down, so we’d jump in our trucks and head to those spots first. There aren’t alarms that tell us where all the batteries are running low—you know from experience. Some inexperienced replacement worker from down South isn’t going to know where to go—and also isn’t going to know our back roads or be able to navigate easily in the dark. If a tree blocks Dyer Road, he won’t know how to find another route to get the backup generators where they’re needed.”
     
    The result, says Whidden, is that people trying to dial out to check on neighbors and family—or to make vital 911 calls—won’t have the service they need.
     
    Workers on the picket lines stress that they are on the same side as their customers. They say they want Northern New England to have the best possible phone and Internet service. To provide 21st-century technology to businesses, schools, and families requires well-trained, experienced, local workers who know the system.
     
    The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T9 includes local unions in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and represents nearly 1,700 employees at FairPoint Communications.

    The Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1400 represents nearly 300 FairPoint employees in the three states. 

  • Maine small businesses to create over 20 jobs with federal Value Added Producer Grants

    Pingree fought successfully for increase in funding in the 2014 Farm Bill

    Five Maine small businesses would receive a total of $471,571 in federal Value Added Producer Grants from the USDA. Funding for the program has risen dramatically—from $15 million to $63 million over five years—thanks to Pingree’s successful efforts to have an increase included in the 2014 Farm Bill.

    “Value Added Producer Grants are critical investments to help small food producers like the ones we have in Maine take their businesses to the next level. These funds allow them to expand their operations, find new markets, and develop new products,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “I couldn’t be happier that the increased funding will allow more Maine producers to take this opportunity, creating and saving dozens of jobs in the process. It’s exciting to see the new innovations this diverse set of recipients will create with this investment.”

    The 2014 Farm Bill, which sets the nation’s agriculture policy every five years, was signed into law by President Obama earlier this year. Pingree wrote and advocated for numerous provisions that will promote local agriculture, sustainable farming, and help young farmers.

    The funding is being provided through USDA Rural Development’s Value-Added Producer Grant program.  The program helps agricultural producers increase their income by expanding marketing opportunities, creating new products and developing new uses for existing products.

      “The funding we are announcing today will have far-reaching, positive impacts in rural communities across the country,”  said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  “The investments will help businesses create new products, expand their operations, and support local and regional food systems. The new Farm Bill expands this program to provide even more of these opportunities.”

    The projects in Maine are estimated to save 46 jobs while creating an additional 21 new jobs. Below is more information and grant amounts for the Maine recipients from USDA.

    Maine VitaminSea, LLC (Buxton) $99,988
    Rural Development funds will be used to provide VitaminSea LLC working capital to support a marketing program to increase sales of seaweed based foods, snacks, and health products harvested in Maine. Sales to specialty food and beauty stores, grocery chains, and food service distributers are projected to grow to 1,000 pounds per week. Funds will also be used to procure unique packaging materials and finance increased production labor costs. VitaminSea LLC intends to save three jobs and create three additional jobs as a result of this grant.

    Maine Farming Fungi LLC (Sanford) $49,912
    Rural Development funds will be used to provide Farming Fungi LLC working capital to market organic mushrooms in unique, compostable packaging for resale in local grocery store chains and food distribution companies. Funds will be used on advertising with printed and social media, website expansion, and product sampling in stores. Additionally, investments in packaging materials, labor and product promotion will work to increase sales to 1,000 pounds per week. Farming Fungi LLC intends to save six jobs and create two additional jobs as a result of this
    grant.

    Maine Apple Acres Farm, Inc. (Hiram) $200,000
    Rural Development funds will be used to provide Apple Acres Farms working capital to expand the sales of fresh apples, apple-based products such as donuts and cider, and locally grown foods to over 120 wholesale and 20,000 retail customers. Funds will also be used to employ a sales professional and to optimize the existing website for e-commerce with a projected increase in revenue of over 200%. Apple Acres Farms intends to save fourteen jobs and create five additional jobs as a result of this grant.

    Maine Marble Family Farms (Farmington) $49,998
    Rural Development funds will be used to provide Marble Family Farms working capital for a market expansion of their pre-cooked and blast frozen pocket meal. The funds will be used toward increasing meal production to 20,000 units by the end of 2014 and expanding the wholesale and retail customer base. Funds will also be used to attend Statewide events as a vendor and to promote the product through targeted marketing and website development. Marble Family Farms intends to save two jobs and create two additional jobs as a result of this grant.

    Maine Maine Fresh Sea Farms, LLC (South Bristol) $71,673
    Rural Development funds will be used to provide Maine Fresh Sea Farms a planning grant to study the feasibility of delivering fresh aquacultured sea vegetable products to the marketplace using existing agricultural produce and seafood distribution systems. Funds will also be used to identify distribution best practices, conduct nutritional analyses, and to create a business plan. Maine Fresh Sea Farms intends to save 21 jobs and to create 10 additional jobs in the next ten years as a result of this grant.

  • Maine’s lags behind job growth with deficit of 12,600 since the end of the recession

    Maine State Capitol in the reflection from the Cross Building. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

     Maine’s job growth continues to lag the behind the rest of the nation as new monthly numbers were released today. According to the State's Department of Labor, Maine lost 900 jobs in July, while jobs grew nationally and in the region.

    Based on these most recent numbers, under Governor Paul LePage, Maine has only created 17,000 jobs, recovering just 58 percent of the jobs lost since the recession. Most of thoses jobs created came from companies taking atvantage of Maine's Pine Tree Development tax incentive package set up by the Baldacci Adminstration. Meanwhile, New England has recovered 124 percent while the nation as whole has recovered 108 percent.

    “The Governor should be honest with Maine people about our job growth. While our neighboring states, and states around the country have jump-started their economies, Maine has still not recovered the jobs it lost in the recession,” said State Senator Justin Alfond.  “If Maine had seen average growth since the Governor took office, we would have 12,600 more jobs by now. The Governor has put ideology ahead of job growth at every turn.”

    Governor LePage tanked a $120 million project when he rejected Statoil--an international clean energy innovator who was ready to put Maine on the international map with a cutting edge legacy industry that would have created hundreds of jobs and pumped millions of dollars in to our economy. Statoil has since invested $2.5 billion in a U.K. project that was previously destined for Boothbay Harbor, Maine. 

    Additionally, LePage is the only Governor in the country who vetoed five bills to increase access to life-saving health care under the Affordable Care Act, turning down nearly $1 million per day in economic investment in the state. According to the Maine Center of Economic Policy, MECP, the federal investment in health care would have created and saved 4,4,00 jobs in Maine. 

    LePage’s office also continues to tout the employment-to-population job growth, which shows the growth in jobs compared to the state’s population. According to MECP the trend indicates that older workers are being forced to return to the workforce or delay retirement in order to make ends meet. From 2009 to 2013, Maine’s 55-and-older population is responsible for most of the increase in Maine’s employment-to-population growth.

    “Older adults in Maine are feeling less secure in their retirement,” said House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick, who has made the challenges facing Maine’s aging population a top priority. “It’s a real problem when our job growth engine is being fueled on the backs of seniors who are forced to delay retirement or even return to the workforce.”

    Since LePage took office, Maine has experienced a job creation record among the worst in the U.S., ranking 46th out of 50 states in the latest report (July 2014). Additionally, Maine has the 6th highest rate in the country of people who work only part-time because they can't find full-time jobs.  

    Under his predicesor Governor John Bladacci over 310 companies recieved Pine Tree Development Status growing thousands of jobs in the state. The jobless rate was under 7 percent, and the state had a surplus.

    Now, with LePage the state has had the second worst personal income growth record in the U.S., ranking 49th from 2009 through 2013. Plus, median household income is down $1,600 and $4,600 below the U.S. median.

    Business Insider and CNBC recently ranked the state among the worst in the nation for business climate.

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