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Maine economy
  • Mayors' Coalition Urges Maine's Congressional Delegation to Retain the State and Local Tax (SALT) and Historic Tax Credit Deductions

    The developers, Tom Niemann and Paul Burgosian, of the Hathaway Center in Waterville took a discarded shirt factory and transformed it, using the Historic Tax Credits and state tax incentives. Hundreds of people now work at the center the tax credit is transforming downtowns across Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    The Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development has asked Maine's Congressional Delegation to oppose any tax reform package that eliminates or reduces the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction or the Historic Tax Credit. 

    Since 2008 the Historic Tax Credit has yielded 5,180 jobs in Maine and generated $42,2 Million in revenue. The credit has also been a catalyst to revitalizing many of Maine’s historic downtowns, like the Hathaway Center in Waterville.

    "The Historic Tax Credit must not get lost in the tax reform discussions," urged Alan Casavant, Mayor of Biddeford. "Saco and Biddeford are growing today thanks in large part to the redevelopment of our old mill buildings. That would not have been possible without the Historic Tax Credit." Eliminating the Historic Tax Credit is especially short-sighted because it returns more revenue to the Treasury than it costs. The return is $1.20-$1.25 for every $1 of credit according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation (savingplaces.org).

    The legislation that recently emerged from the House of Representatives would cap SALT deductions at $10,000 for property taxes only and eliminate the Historic Tax Credit. On November 28, 2017 the Senate Budget Committee approved a package that would eliminate the SALT deduction entirely.

    "The SALT deduction is an essential part of good tax policy," said David Rollins, Mayor of Augusta. "No Maine resident should pay federal tax on income that has already been paid to state or municipal government. SALT has been part of federal tax policy since 1913." Nearly 180,000 Maine households currently take advantage of SALT, with total income deductions of over $2 billion (source: National Association of Counties, www.naco.org).

    "Eliminating SALT will be an immediate tax increase on thousands of hard working Mainers," notes Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling. "Residents of service center communities will be especially hard hit because they are subject to higher municipal tax rates."

    "I am concerned that eliminating SALT will put local government services at risk while increasing the real cost of home ownership," new Belfast Mayor Sarah Paradis. "Belfast residents are clear that high property tax rates are their primary concern. Eliminating SALT will increase their taxes, further stretching limited household budgets."

    The Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development was formed in 2012. The Coalition includes the Mayors of ten Maine communities. The purpose of the Coalition is to advocate for state policies that will grow Maine’s economy statewide by providing the infrastructure, skilled workforce, and reasonable tax rates necessary to support such growth.

    The Coalition brings together the Mayors of Augusta, Bangor, Belfast, Biddeford, Lewiston, Portland, Saco, Sanford, and Westbrook. This is a bi-partisan group that represents municipalities with a combined population of more than 240,000.

     

     

  • Let's do tax reform right!

    By: U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Angus King (I-ME)

    (Photo: Sen. King on the right visits Penobscot elder Charles Norman Shay on Indian Island. He honoared Shay with a proclamation thanking him for his service in WWII aa a medic on the beaches of Normandy during D-day)

    Major tax reform is one of the most important tasks of this or any Congress. What we do in the next several months will affect every American, every business and our entire economy for decades to come. Unfortunately, those in charge of the current process seem hell bent to pass something, anything, that can be called tax reform before an arbitrary Christmas deadline, with no real input from Democrats (or Independents), outside experts, states and communities affected, or ordinary citizens.

    But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are a substantial number of Democrats who are prepared to engage in good-faith negotiations involving hearings, expert input, and compromise, to include cutting corporate rates and doing something about off-shore profits to stimulate economic growth. We believe that we can get to 70 votes, and probably more, for a more targeted (and less costly) alternative. The trick is to slow down, open up the process, and make sure we look before we take a thirty-year leap.

    One of our greatest concerns about the current Senate and House bills is the long-term implication of the huge cut in revenues that both of these bills entail — which will only hasten the inevitable day of reckoning on the ballooning deficit and debt. Further, because we’re borrowing to fill the hole created by this lost revenue, these aren’t really tax cuts at all but are simply shifts of costs we’re unwilling to pay to our kids.

    And all this deficit spending is being done in relatively good times, using up whatever cushion we might need for future economic downturns. Any rational business would be paying down debt now, not adding to it.

    There are lots of important ideas out there that have not gotten a hearing in the current closed process, ideas that could really make a difference in economic growth without ballooning the debt or favoring one class of taxpayers over another. For example, our Republican Senate colleague, Ron Johnson, has pointed out that the engine of economic growth is the 80+ percent of American businesses that organize in ways (Subchapter S, limited liability companies and partnerships) where business income is simply passed through and taxed as ordinary income of their owners.

    The current Senate Republican tax plan, by lowering corporate rates for the 20 percent of businesses that organize as Subchapter C corporations, does less for the small businesses that truly drive the economy. So Johnson proposes a simple solution. Instead of disadvantaging small businesses, treat all businesses the same by attributing the income of Subchapter C corporations to their owners and tax that income at personal rates. The details matter in getting this right, but the Johnson concept is worth a serious look.

    Why do tax reform wrong? What’s the rush? All indications are that both the House and Senate bills would disproportionately benefit the largest companies and richest individuals while offering little to small businesses and punishing millions of middle class families. The proposals explode the deficits by at least $1.5 trillion — and the Senate bill would even dramatically increase the ranks of those without health insurance. This is why a strong consensus of economists has emerged that this particular tax plan will do little to promote a stronger American economy.

    Surely we can do better. And we should do better. In 1986, Congress laid the groundwork for bipartisan reform with 36 hearings over ten months. The current Senate Bill was handed to Finance Committee members less than one week before the Committee was forced to debate and vote on its provisions. No hearings with experts, no opportunity for the public to weigh in, no real opportunity for Democratic members to persuade the Republican majority to improve the bill. And, we are currently scheduled to debate the bill on the Senate floor this week under a constrained procedure where a Senator offering an amendment is given one minute — one minute! — to debate the amendment before voting. A city council wouldn’t amend the leash law with a process like this.

    We are former Governors — one Democrat and one Independent — who have worked on tax reform issues with legislators of both parties. We have recently been part of crafting bipartisan Senate legislation to stabilize the health insurance markets and also to better calibrate the regulation of community banks and credit unions. We know there is a path to bipartisan tax reform to spur economic growth and help hardworking individuals and small businesses succeed. If we miss the opportunity to do this right, we (and the entire country) are likely to regret it for years to come.

  • Maine House Republicans Block Marijuana Legislation by Backing Gov. LePage

    The Maine House of Representatives failed to override Governor LePage’s veto of landmark cannabis legislation that would have safely and responsibly implemented the state’s newly passed recreational marijuana referendum during a special legislative session Monday. While the bill originally passed by strong margins, it failed to reach the two-thirds support needed to survive a Governor LePage’s veto (74-62) due to the majority of House Republicans opposing the measure.

    “This was our chance to do our job, to protect the people of Maine and create this new industry. I’m deeply disappointed that this legislation, which was written after six months of work by Democratic, Republican and Independent lawmakers, was successfully derailed by a small group of people,” said Representative Teresa Pierce (D-Falmouth), House chair of the Legislature’s Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee.

    “It didn’t matter how thoughtful this legislation was, certain individuals were set on a predetermined outcome of slowing down this process because they didn’t like the outcome of the referendum. While we received strong bipartisan support, those who voted against this bill voted to ignore public safety concerns, abandon law enforcement officers who asked for more guidance, and ease the path to underage marijuana access in Maine. I sincerely hope the people of Maine voice their opinion on today’s vote to their representatives before we return to the Legislature in January.”

    “I’ve been advocating for safe, responsible and legal recreational marijuana ever since for as long as I’ve been in public service — first as the sheriff of Cumberland County, then as a member of the House of Representatives and now as a state senator,” said Sen. Mark Dion (D-Portland), member of the MLI Committee. The governor’s veto is the latest in a long line of setbacks, but we remain closer than ever before to enacting reasonable drug policy reforms to end the system of black-market profits and needless incarceration. We will continue our work, knowing the people of Maine are on our side. It’s only a matter of time before the voters’ will is fulfilled. 

    LD 1650 An Act To Amend the Marijuana Legalization Act originally passed the House by a vote of 84-52.

    The failure to pass LD 1650 ensures the original referendum takes effect as written, preventing critical safety measures and blocking stronger local control for municipalities that were established by the new bill.

    LD 1650 was drafted by a 17-member bipartisan committee established by the legislature and received a 15-2 vote in committee. The group held hours of public hearings, utilized expert testimony and engaged stakeholders affected by the existing law.

    LD 1650 established a clear regulatory framework for adult-use recreational marijuana. Key provisions of the bill included protections against use by minors by banning marketing practices that targeted underage Mainers, provided funding for youth prevention and public safety campaigns, and established stronger guidance for members of law enforcement.

    LD 1650 established an opt-in for local municipalities to preserve community autonomy in entering the new industry. It also provided answers to questions left by the original referendum.

    The referendum includes less clarity and direction in relation to law enforcement and contains fewer safeguards around youth prevention. 

    The referendum also allows for the possibility of marijuana drive-up windows, internet sales and home deliveries, all of which were banned by LD 1650.   

    The Marijuana Legalization Implementation committee will continue to meet.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

     

  • Top Maine City to Start a Business - Bangor

    A 2017 analysis by national finance website WalletHub compared the business climate of over 1,200 small cities, and Bangor came out as the top place in Maine to start a business.

    Using 16 key metrics including average growth in number of small businesses, real estate and labor costs, number of startups per capita, and access to capital, Bangor ranked ahead of other Maine cities with a total score of 40.6 and ranking of 434 out of 1261 cities.

    "Bangor has worked diligently to make ourselves an ideal small city for economic development and business activity," said Bangor Mayor Joseph M. Baldacci, a local small business owner himself. "Our City's efforts to focus on both the entrepreneurial ecosystem and quality of life assets have made Bangor a location of choice. We expect to see even more of this growth in the future, as more businesses prioritize location and quality of life as critical factors in their location decisions."

    Additional information about business resources can be found on the City's website: www.bangormaine.gov/ced.

  • 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).

  • Vote June 13th for bonds that will grow jobs

    Since the Baldacci administration we havn't had bond issues to fuel our innovative economy.

    Yes On Question 1: Good For Our Economy, Good For Maine

    Question 1 is a bond measure that will provide funds for $50 million for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State. 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. 

  • Adam Cote is in the race for ME Governor saying he'll bring new leadership and build a strong economy

     

    A decorated veteran Adam Cote first ran for office in 2008 against Chellie Pingree for Senate in democratic primary. He also served in Bosina negociating the peace. He runs a renewable energy business and has shown he can work with everyone, while keeping to his objectives. He's popular in the 1st and 2nd districts of Maine. That is major to win the Governor's race.

      Veteran, small businessman and renewable energy attorney Adam Cote released the following statement today after filing to run for Governor.  A formal campaign kick-off will come later this year. 

    “I was born and raised in Sanford, Maine, where Paulina and I are raising our own young family today.  I love Maine and I believe deeply in service. I have not spent much time in Augusta, but I have learned leadership through 20 years as a soldier in places like Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan and 16 years in the private sector as both a small businessman and a renewable energy attorney.

    I am running for Governor because I believe we need to make sure change starts in Maine in 2018.  With new leadership grounded in Maine values like hard work, innovation, a welcoming spirit and a belief that every person is deserving of respect, we will grow a strong economythat works for all of us, with good paying jobs in every part of Maine

    I know we can turn the page from the dead-end politics of division, strengthen the state we love, and leave it stronger and better for our kids and future generations. I hope you will join our campaign by signing up for news and updates at www.CoteForMaine.com and inviting your friends and family to be part of our team as well.” 

    Cote’s action today is in line with Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices guidelines for any candidate who has clearly decided to run for an office, in order to track and report costs and expenses associated with reaching out to voters.  

    “My service has not been in political office to this point in my life,” said Cote, “but I am determined to get started today building a strong, statewide, neighbor-to-neighbor campaign that will win in 2018.” 

     

    Background on Adam:

    • Born, raised and lives with his family in Sanford, Maine
    • 44 years old 
    • Graduate of Colby College and the University of Maine Law School
    • Married to Paulina Cote with five children, three girls and two boys
    • Awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service in Afghanistan, after taking over leadership of and turning around a dysfunctional, undisciplined company from another part of the country
    • Awarded the Combat Action Badge for his leadership after surviving and caring for fellow soldiers after the December 21, 2004 suicide bombing in the chow hall in Mosul, Iraq
    • Awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his exceptional service while assigned to the 52nd Troop Command 
    • Received the “White House Champion of Change” award from President Obama’s White House in 2013, recognizing his work as “a veteran working to advance clean energy and climate security”
    • Honored as the 2015 “Distinguished Alumni of the Year” by Colby College

    Cote’s 2008 congressional campaign performance:

    • Won 15,706 votes (26percent) as a first-time candidate and earned a strong second place finish in a six-way first district congressional primary, among many more established state politicians
    • Raised over $650,000 
    • Won York County, Maine’s 2nd largest, by over 1,000 votes, came within 377 votes of winning Kennebec County (4th largest) and came in second in all five of the other first CD counties
    • Won 25 towns in the First Congressional District – and came in second in all but three or four towns
    • Won every mill or former mill town located in the first CD, including several that are among the largest communities in the state, such as: Biddeford (Mane’s 6th largest city), Sanford (Maine’s 7th largest city), Saco (Maine’s 11th largest city), Augusta (came within 20 votes in Maine’s 9th largest city), Westbrook and Gardiner 

    For more information, visit www.CoteForMaine.com, a temporary webpage. 

  • An Innovator of the Year - University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center

    Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Executive Director of the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center in a wind/wave testing facility at UMaine. The Center won a Innovator of the Year Award. The award is given to a company or organization in Maine that has accessed international markets through new and innovative processes or products. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine International Trade Center (MITC) announced the winners of the 2017 International Trade and Investment Awards. The awards will be officially presented during Maine International Trade Day on May 25, at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine.

    The UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center was at the top of the list. 

    "It's a great honor for the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center to be recognized for working with more than 500 international and national companies, including more than 150 Maine companies, to develop new products, reach new markets, and expand their international reach," said Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Executive Director of the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

    "This award truly goes to our world-leading students, faculty, and staff for their incredible work, as well as the more than 2,000 students who have worked at our lab since opening in 2000," said Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Executive Director of the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center."

    Using 3-D printers, robots, and digital tools the newest state of the art lab at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine will officially open this summer. 

    The Alfond Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory for Structural Thermoplastics is a demonstration lab that will test new ways to improve manufacturing. Thermoplastics are recyclable materials that will transform composite materials used in cars, ships, boats, and aerospace applications. Thermoplastic composites are low cost, low weight, recyclable, and corrosion resistant. 

    In partnership with industry, this facility will lead future thermoplastic composites manufacturing research and serve as a test bed for manufacturing solutions and training. This innovative new lab is part of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center that works with entities from around the world to bring advanced materials into construction.

    The Center has 180 full and part-time employees and is housed in a 100,000 ft. world-leading laboratory at the University of Maine.


  • 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.

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

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

    Editorial by Rep. Justin Chenette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Congressional legislation introduced to improve the federal historic tax credit

    Using the Historic Tax Credit, established under the Baldacci administration with the help of developer Tom Niemann, the Hathaway Center in Waterville came to life with it's renovation. Photo by Ramona du Houx 

    The Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act was introduced in both the US House and Senate on February 16, 2017). The bill will simplify the federal historic tax credit (HTC) making it easier for small rehabilitation projects that need this incentive to be feasible, by successfully using the credit.

    Maine passed a companion HTC in 2008. The federal and state historic credits have been used together in 75 projectscompleted or under construction across the state since, with total investment-

    • exceeding $400 million,
    • creating more than 5,000 jobs 
    • 1,200 rental units, 770 of which are affordable housing.

    PHOTO: Tom Niemann's project in Waterville, Maine, restored the Hathaway Center, which was a former shirt factory and a major business in town. Attention to detail and strict adherence to the preservation laws really makes this project stand out as the best in Maine. Niemann helped the state draft the Historic Preservation Act. Photo: Ramona du Houx

    The federal and state credits together have resulted in 5 times as many projects and 9 times the investment as prior to 2008. But the average project size is over $5 million. Many small projects now cannot use the federal credit, which this bill would fix.

    Both the House and Senate companion bills have bipartisan sponsors and co-sponsors. This is Sen. Sussan Collins's bill in the Senate.

    "Senator Collins is spot on with this proposed legislation. Similar to the Maine legislation, these improvements to the Federal Program will make smaller projects on many Main Streets and in rural areas in Maine more feasible. We should do all we can to support this in order to continue the strong revitalization efforts in Maine, create even more jobs, and more economic vitality!" said Tom Niemann developer of the renovated Hathaway Center, in Waterville, Maine.

    660 Congress Street renovation with Maine's Historic Tax Credits. Before and After photos 

    "The historic tax credits have been  an important incentive for Maine communities. These rehabilitation projects have repurposed abandoned schools, mills, inns, and apartment buildings transforming Biddeford & Saco, Norway, Portland, Lewiston, Dover-Foxcroft, Waterville, and many other towns across the state," said Maine Preservation Executive Director Greg Paxton.

    "These projects raise the spirits of Mainers who see these formerly dilapidated buildings put to good use, and help reverse the decline of their surrounds by spurring additional activity. Plus, due to income sales and property taxes paid for to complete and operate these projects, they pay for themselves. But it is currently too difficult for small projects to use the federal tax credit, and Senator Collins excellent bipartisan bill would fix that.”

    Dover Foxcroft renovation - before and after - made possible with historic tax credits.

     

  • Maine urged to take stronger action against power plant pollution with RGGI

    On February 8, 2017, representatives of nine states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic met to discuss taking stronger action to cut global warming pollution. These states, part of a regional program that limits pollution from power plants called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,(RGGI) are preparing to make a decision about how much to cut pollution from 2020 to 2030.

    Across the region, RGGI states have cut power plant pollution in half since 2005, and RGGI states have generated more than $2.5 billion for clean energy investment.

    To date RGGI has brought in $83,612,946.15 to the state of Maine for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. Many of these programs and projects are managed through the Efficiency Maine Trust, set up by Governor John Baldacci. 

    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.

    In January, 2017, NASA announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record for our planet, breaking records last set in 2015 and 2014. We know global warming is happening and we know that we are the cause.

    Maine is already beginning to experience more extreme weather events and sea levels along New England and the mid-Atlantic coast are rising faster than every other region of coast.

    "There’s never been a more urgent time to talk about cutting pollution. So we are glad to see Maine updating the best regional clean air and climate program in America – the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative," said Emma Rotner, Campaign Organizer with Environment Maine.

    RGGI cleans the air and improves health outcomes-

    A new analysis last month showed that over its first 6 years, the program saved 600 lives, averted 9,000 asthma attacks, and prevented 260,000 days where people would have had to restrict daily activities, such as exercise, due to air pollution.

    RGGI helps accelerate our country transition away from dirty fuels and toward clean energy.

    "We make power plant owners pay for every ton of pollution they emit. That is driving a lot of great clean energy projects in our communities. For example, from 2013-2015 Efficiency Maine used $25 million to create more energy efficient homes and businesses, drastically cutting down on energy costs (http://www.nrcm.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/RGGI4pagerFINAL.pdf). However, we can and must do more," said Rotner.

    "Over the next three months, we have a chance to double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Doing so would cut pollution faster, help us live longer and healthier lives, speed our transition to clean energy and strengthen our economy.

    "With leadership unlikely to come from Washington DC, states must show the way forward.

    "We urge Governor LePage to keep Maine leading the charge on climate. We should double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to cut pollution in half again by 2030 and invest more in energy efficiency, wind and solar power. Together we can build a renewable energy future, and deliver clean air and a safe, healthy climate for us all.”

  • 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.

  • UMaine's Bridge-In-A-Backpack spinoff company signs big marketing-distribution agreement with Terre Armee Internationale

    By Ramona du Houx

    Advanced Infrastructure Technologies (AIT), a University of Maine spinoff company, has signed an exclusive distribution and marketing agreement for North America with Terre Armee Group/Reinforced Earth Company (TA/RECo).

    This agreement will help UMaine’s patented composite arch bridge technology gain more markets in North America, and to expand into international markets.

    AIT is a leading producer of composite arch bridges that were first developed by the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center originally known as Bridge-In-A-Backpack TM.

     “This is a tremendous step forward for our patented bridge technology and its commercialization partner AIT to sign a distribution and marketing agreement from a multibillion-dollar international construction and engineering company. AIT was able to attract the attention of such a substantial firm due to the value of the Bridge-In-A-Backpack TM technology, its continued R&D partnership with UMaine, and its efforts in securing early bridge sales within the U.S. infrastructure industry,” said Habib Dagher, executive director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, and the primary inventor of composite arch bridge technology.

    The Bridge-in-a-Backpack is so light grad students demostrate how easy it is to carry one of the inflatable arches, photo Ramona du Houx, 2009

    The Bridge-in-a-Backpack’s arches, made of composite materials, are inflated at the site of a bridge and then infused with resin. Once they harden, they are lowered into place and filled with concrete and the foundations are shored up. Then the arches are covered in a corrugated, composite material, dirt and sand fills in gaps, and a composite deck on top of the structure is paved.

    The Bridge-In-A-Backpack received funding from Maine state voter-approved bonds, under the Baldacci administration, as well as a host of grants from the federal government. Governor John Baldacci made sure ten percent of Maine’s bridges would be built from the technology developed at the Composite Center in a transportation bond. That enabled the first Bridge-in-a-Backpack to be constructed, and every since then attention and acclaim has been rolling in. With revolutionary examples of a light weight, more durable and flexible bridge technology here in Maine other states continue to see the advantages of using the Bridge-n-a-Backpack. 

    The innovative composite bridge system, the first to be approved in the AASHTO code, lowers construction costs, extends structural life span up to 100 years, and is a sustainable alternative to traditional construction methods.

    The technology has received major awards and recognition, including the 2015 White House Transportation Champions of Change, Most Creative Product by the American Composites Manufacturing Association, and the Charles Pankow Award for Innovation from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

    “This exclusive partnership with TA will strengthen our presence in the U.S. and Canada by leveraging their long-term and extensive market share by adding personnel resources and financial strength to AIT,” said Brit Svoboda, chair/CEO of AIT. “TA additionally offers AIT greater access to international markets through their significant global presence. We look forward to accelerating AIT’s growth through this arrangement.”

    The Terre Armee Group operates through more than 30 companies in 60 countries. The company is best known for its work in the mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) market, where it has completed over 50 million square feet of retaining walls around the world in its 45-year history.

     “Being the inventor and world leader of the MSE retaining wall market gives us a strong platform for expanding the use of new technologies,” said Roger Bloomfield, CEO of the Terre Armee Group. “In recent years, we have annually averaged a supply of over 200,000 square meters of precast concrete arches. Adding the composite arch bridge system to our portfolio is an exciting development that will fuel the growth of both Terre Armee and AIT in the coming years.”

    About Advanced Structures and Composites Center: The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center is a world-leading, interdisciplinary center for research, education, and economic development encompassing material sciences, manufacturing, and engineering of composites and structures.

     Since 1996, the center has: financially supported more than 2,000 positions for undergraduate and graduate students; served more than 500 industrial and governmental clients, including 150 Maine companies; formed 14 spinoff companies through licensing agreements of patents or trade secrets, and received more than 40 national and international awards.

    The center has gained a national and international reputation through major research and development projects such as the VolturnUS 1:8, the first grid-connected floating offshore wind turbine in the U.S. and the first in the world made out of concrete and composite materials, the inflatable composite arch bridges Bridge-In-A-Backpack TM technology now approved in the AASHTO code, the first Modular Ballistic Protection System (MBPS) approved by the U.S. Army to protect troops in tents from blast and ballistic threats, development of coated wood technology for blast and hurricane resistant wood buildings, and the longest carbon-fiber composite vessel built for the U.S. Navy. For more information, visit composites.umaine.edu.

  • National Laboratory Officials & UMaine to Announce Innovative Partnership to Grow Maine’s Economy

    One week after the Economic Development Assessment Team released its report on how to strengthen Maine’s forest economy, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) joined officials from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center (UMaine) to start implementing its recommendations, beginning with the announcement of a partnership between ORNL and UMaine to advance innovative forest bio-based manufacturing and grow the state’s forest products sector.

    Senator King received a private briefing from officials with the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, ORNL, and UMaine about the partnership, and then toured the Alfond Advanced Manufacturing Lab for Structural Thermoplastics.

    At the conclusion of the tour, Senator King and UMaine President Susan Hunter participated in a signing ceremony to cement the new partnership aimed at developing forest-based biomaterials for use with advanced additive manufacturing, composite materials development and manufacturing, as well as bio-refineries, bioenergy, and biofuels.

  • 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)

  • 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.

  • Maine has received $3.3 billion from USDA during Obama years

    By Ramona du Houx 

    Since the beginning of the Obama Administration in Fiscal Year 2009, Maine Rural Development has invested an historic $3.3 billion in Maine’s rural communities through its programs, assisting 18,181 individuals and families to obtain homeownership or make repairs to their homes, constructing 42 Multi-Family Apartment buildings, investing in 250 essential community facilities, including water and waste facilities, assisting 3,505 Maine businesses, and impacting 10,211 jobs. 

    Just last year the USDA invested a total of $402.3 million in Maine communities in Fiscal Year 2016. 

    “Rural Development is a remarkable agency within the USDA that can build rural Maine communities from the ground up, investing in the community infrastructure that lays the foundation for strategic economic development. Rural Development invests in the homeowners, businesses, agricultural producers, and communities that help to make Maine a great place to work and call home,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    The funding was in the form of loans and grants through the agency’s Housing, Community, and Business & Cooperative Programs, and went directly to recipients in rural.

    1. Through the agency’s Housing Programs, a total of $316.8 million was invested in both homeownership and affordable rental housing in Maine.
    2. Through the agency’s Single-Family Housing Programs 1,849 Maine families became homeowners and 130 families were assisted with home repair and rehabilitation, including weatherization of their homes.
    3. Through the agency’s Multi-Family Housing Programs 8,003 families were assisted with quality rental housing throughout Maine’s rural communities.

    Maine communities benefited from a total investment of $55.09 million invested through the Community Programs which was provided to assist essential community facilities, including healthcare facilities, schools, and water and wastewater systems. A total of 36 community facilities were funded, and a total of 16,698 people were provided with improved water and wastewater infrastructure. 

    The Business & Cooperative Programs strengthened Maine’s economy through investments totaling $8.7 million, assisting 411 Maine businesses and creating and retaining a total of 926 jobs in the state. Maine’s agricultural producers and rural small businesses benefited from grants for value-added production and the installation of renewable and energy efficient systems, helping preserve the environment and reduce operating costs.

    USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. There are 52 employees working to deliver the agency’s Housing, Business, and Community Programs, which are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, and farmers, and improve the quality of life in rural Maine.

    Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office 

  • 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.”

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

     

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

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

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • New National Offshore Wind Strategy to Drive Deployment Great for Maine

    by Ramona du Houx

    In Sepyember, 2016 U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the publication of a collaborative strategic plan to continue accelerating the development of offshore wind energy in the United States, the National Offshore Wind Strategy: Facilitating the Development of the Offshore Wind Industry in the United States,which could help enable 86 gigawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2050. The strategy details the current state of offshore wind in the United States, presents the actions and innovations needed to reduce deployment costs and timelines, and provides a roadmap to support the growth and success of the industry.

     This new wind energy strategy is a part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan that will create American jobs and cut carbon pollution by developing America's clean energy resources.

    The strategy builds on DOE and DOI’s first joint offshore wind strategy, published in 2011. Since then, the Energy Department has allocated nearly $200 million to support three cutting-edge offshore wind demonstration projects led by the University of Maine, New Jersey’s Fishermen’s Energy, and Ohio’s Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, and research and development investments in technologies that specifically address the opportunities and challenges across U.S. waters.

    “This Administration has made significant investments in clean energy technologies, supporting a diversified energy portfolio to help meet our Climate Action Plan goal of permitting 20,000 MW of renewable electricity generation on public lands and waters by 2020,” said Secretary Jewell. “Thanks to involvement by partners at all levels of government, community stakeholders, tribes and the public, we've been able to stand up the first federal offshore wind energy program in the history of the U.S. and we are confident the strategy we're outlining today will chart a course for additional investment in clean energy technologies that can help power America's future.”

    Since 2010, the Department of the Interior has issued 11 commercial leases for offshore wind development, nine of which generated approximately $16 million through competitive lease sales and covered more than one million acres of federal waters.

    “Offshore wind has experienced enormous progress during the Obama administration. The first offshore wind farm has now finished construction, and we have gone from zero offshore wind areas leased before this administration to eleven areas that total the size of Rhode Island,” said Energy Secretary Moniz. “Today’s collaborative strategic plan is part of a long-term commitment to support innovation that enables widespread offshore wind deployment and shows how offshore wind will benefit our country with new jobs, less pollution, and a more diversified electricity mix.”

    The National Offshore Wind Strategy identifies key challenges facing the industry and more than 30 specific actions that DOE and DOI can take over the next five years to address those challenges.

    These actions fall into three strategic areas:

    1. Reducing technical costs and risks. DOI proposes the joint development of standard data collection guidelines to foster predictability and inform safe project development  and DOE will work to increase annual energy production and reliability of offshore wind plants.
    2. Supporting effective stewardship. DOI commits to numerous actions to ensure that the regulatory process is predictable, transparent, efficient and informed by lessons learned from regulators in other countries. Additionally, as the first generation of installed projects come online, DOI and DOE will collect field data on parts of offshore development including impacts on marine life and turbine radar interference in order to support future offshore wind siting and plan reviews.
    3. Improving the market conditions for investment in offshore wind energy. Studies are needed help quantify the broad grid integration impacts of adding significant amounts of offshore wind energy to the power system. Such information could significantly benefit the offshore wind community by informing state policies critical to supporting development.

    DOE has found that developing 86,000 MW of these offshore wind energy resources by 2050 would support 160,000 jobs, reduce power sector water consumption by 5 percent, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.8 percent.

  • 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.”

  • Maine State Senate Democrats earn great marks for pro-environment votes

    Photos - Ramona du Houx

    Democratic members of the Maine Senate showed their commitment to Maine’s environment and natural resources with their voices and their votes during the 2016 legislative session, according to a scorecard released this week by Maine Conservation Voters.

    This year, nearly all the Senate Democrats earned perfect scores for their voting records.

    “Our natural resources and the industries they support are a linchpin of our economy, and one of the main drivers of Mainers’ high quality of life,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, of Portland. “I’m proud of Democrats’ record on conservation, clean energy, clean water and clean air.”

    Democrats in the Senate defended the Land for Maine’s Future conservation program from Gov. Paul LePage’s attacks, and supported Maine’s solar energy industry and the creation of green jobs. They stood up for the environment and for taxpayers by rejecting new mining rules that put both at risk. They protected critical energy efficiency programs for home and business owners when Republicans tried to exploit a clerical error to slash approved funding.

    And they supported the creation of a new national monument, along with all the environmental benefits and economic opportunities that come with it.

    “Our votes represent our devotion to the bright future promised by clean energy and good stewardship of our environment,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dawn Hill, of York. “As legislators, it’s our duty to ensure responsible policy not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of generations to come.”

    Democratic Senators who earned perfect scores include Alfond and Hill, as well as Sens. Cathy Breen of Falmouth, Susan Deschambault of Biddeford, David Dutremble of Biddeford, Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, Geoff Gratwick of Bangor, Anne Haskell of Portland, Chris Johnson of Somerville, Nate Libby of Lewiston, Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, Dave Miramant of Camden, John Patrick of Rumford and Linda Valentino of Saco.

    “We are grateful to the senators who voted to release voter-approved conservation bonds; to expand solar power and good paying solar jobs; and against the governor's unconstitutional bill to prevent the creation of national monuments,” said Beth Ahearn, political director for Maine Conservation Voters. “We need more leaders like them in the Senate in order to prevent the governor's attacks on conservation from succeeding."

  • USDA Grants totaling $212,753 for Aroostook and Piscataquis and Maine Native American Tribe

    By Ramona du Houx

    Four Maine organizations in northern Maine have been selected to receive USDA grants that will benefit people living in rural communities in ways that will enhance their regions creative economy. 

    “Each of the USDA Rural Development grants play a vital role in the community they serve. From providing economic development opportunities that will assist the Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians in utilizing valuable Tribal resources, to supporting performing art, agricultural history, and vital health and wellness equipment for children, these grants make an important impact on the quality of life for Northern Maine citizens," said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel. 

    In Maine, four organizations have been selected to receive Grants totaling $212,753:

    • Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians, in Presque Isle, has been selected to receive a Rural Business Development Grant in the amount of $122,953. Rural Development funds will be used to develop a strategic economic and community development plan to consider the best use of the Tribe’s 3,000 acres of land, other Tribal assets, and the community ecosystem. Feasibility analyses and business plans for two potential Tribal enterprises, specialty foods, and alternative energy will be funded. This projects is estimated to create up to 20 jobs and save up to 10.

    • Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum, in Littleton, has been selected to receive a Community Facility Grant in the amount of $14,700.  Rural Development funds will be used to replace the heating system in the museum, which is dedicated to preserving artifacts of the agricultural way of life in Aroostook County and what early farm life was like. The existing steam heating system is approximately 65 years old and unreliable and inefficient to operate compared to current technologies. They will replace it with a more modern oil fired hot water boiler system

     

    • Maine School Administrative District 27, in Fort Kent, has been selected to receive a Community Facility Grant in the amount of $42,000. Rural Development funds will be used to purchase and install wellness equipment for the Fort Kent Elementary School playground. In designing the playground structure, the District incorporated components that are particularly appropriate for occupational therapy and physical therapy students as well as the general population. The structure will also be ADA compliant.\

    • Center Theatre, Inc., in Dover-Foxcroft has been selected to receive a Community Facility Grant in the amount of $33,100.  Rural Development funds will be used to purchase lighting, sound, stage, and other equipment needed to provide the Theatre an opportunity to increase capacity by utilizing the stage and event space available at Central Hall. This will allow for them to host dances and provide dinner theater activities that cannot be held at their existing facility. Central Hall will also be a dedicated rehearsal space. 

     

    Each grant reciepient is part of a regional economic development plan developed by a local/regional team with broad participation. These plans are built upon analysis of the region’s assets, including its key current and emerging economic clusters. These multi-county regions can be within the state or may cross state boundaries.

  • 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.



  • Mid-Life Achievement award from Maine film festival will go to Gabriel Byrne

    The Maine International Film Festival (MIFF) will present its annual Mid-Life Achievement Award to actor Gabriel Byrne at a special ceremony held at the Waterville Opera House on the evening of July 15. Most recently, Byrne was nominated for a 2016 Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in the Broadway production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

    “We are thrilled to honor Gabriel Byrne with the 2016 Mid-Life Achievement Award,” said MIFF programming director Ken Eisen. “Gabriel is a truly brilliant actor with a career that spans over four decades and includes over 100 film, stage, and TV credits. We can’t wait to welcome him to MIFF.”

    Byrne has appeared in over 35 feature films, including Excalibur,Miller’s CrossingThe Usual Suspects, and Stigmata. Byrne co-wrote The Last of the High Kings and has also produced several films, including the Academy Award-nominated In the Name of the Father. One of Byrne’s most identifiable roles is that of Dr. Paul Weston in the HBO drama In Treatment, for which he won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for two Emmy Awards and two Satellite Awards.

    The award presentation will be held after a screening of The Usual Suspects, a neo-noir mystery crime thriller directed by Byran Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie, on Friday, July 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Waterville Opera House. Tickets are $14 and are now available online. The film centers on five criminals (played by Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, and Stephen Baldwin) who meet in a police lineup and decide to pull off a heist together. Byrne will be in Waterville July 14 and 15 with screenings of Miller’s CrossingJindabyne, and Louder Than Bombs. 

  • USDA lowers cost to refinance rural housing loans in Maine and Nationwide

     USDA Rural Housing Service Administrator Tony Hernandez on May 16,2016 announced a series of changes that will make it faster and cheaper for homeowners to refinance USDA Rural Development mortgages.  

     “I am pleased that Maine families and individuals have this opportunity to refinance through USDA Rural Development, ultimately helping them to have more money in their pockets and more to save for the future,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel. 

    Waterville, photo, is a rural Maine town. People living in this area will benfit from the loan changes.

    To date in Maine this Fiscal Year, USDA Rural Development has assisted 886 Maine families or individuals to become homeowners through its Single-Family Housing Guaranteed and Direct Loans, for a total investment of $128.2 million.

    USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel said, “I am pleased that Maine families and individuals have this opportunity to refinance through USDA Rural Development, ultimately helping them to have more money in their pockets and more to save for the future.”

    “These changes reaffirm the Obama Administration’s commitment to middle-class Americans, and I am pleased that we continue to provide affordable housing to support thriving economies in rural communities,” Hernandez said. “Helping homeowners refinance their homes to reduce their monthly payments and take advantage of low interest rates will bring increased capital to rural residents and the communities where they live and work.”

    USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel said, “I am pleased that Maine families and individuals have this opportunity to refinance through USDA Rural Development, ultimately helping them to have more money in their pockets and more to save for the future.”

    The changes take effect June 2, 2016 and apply to mortgages issued through USDA and those where USDA has issued a loan note guarantee.

       Homeowners current on their mortgages for the past 12 months will no longer be required to secure an appraisal, provide a credit report or undergo a debt-to-income calculation when they refinance for a 30-year term. These changes will save time and money.

    USDA began testing these changes in a 2012 a pilot program that was later expanded to include 34 states and Puerto Rico. To date, nearly 9,500 homeowners have refinanced their mortgages. Some borrowers saved as much as $600 a month. The average savings is around $150 per month.   

    The streamlined rules are consistent with banking industry lending standards. These refinanced loans, like all USDA Rural Development housing loans, meet rigorous underwriting standards and are made only to qualified borrowers. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs have similar programs for the Americans they serve.

    Interested homeowners with USDA loan guarantees should contact their lender about refinance procedures. Homeowners with USDA Direct loans should contact a USDA housing specialist.

    For additional details on these new changes, please see page 26461 of the May 3 Federal Register. To learn more about USDA housing programs, please contact a housing specialist at your nearest USDA Rural Development office. A list of State offices is available at:  http://www.rd.usda.gov/contact-us/state-offices.

    Since 2009, USDA Rural Development nationwide (#USDARD) has helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 185,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/results.

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

  • $7.34 million in federal Brownfield grants for Maine

     On May 21,2016 Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced that Maine will receive $7,340,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency Brownfield Program to assess and cleanup polluted properties throughout the state.

    “Brownfield grants have been absolutely critical in helping Maine communities move forward by cleaning up sites contaminated by former industrial uses so they can be redeveloped. Both directly and indirectly, they have created and supported many jobs throughout the state,” said Pingree.  “I’m very glad that these communities will receive funds to boost economic development and protect environmental health.”

    Projects in Pingree’s District—which covers Southern, Midcoast, and parts of Central Maine—accounted for $4.14 million of the total. Nine other projects in Maine also received funding.

    Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, which oversees funding for EPA programs.

    Details on projects in Pingree’s District below.

    • Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, $820,000 (revolving loan fund for Prime Tanning site in Berwick)
    • Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, $200,000 (assessment for Prime Tanning)
    • Town of Berwick, $500,000 (cleanup for Prime Tanning)
    • Marble Block Redevelopment Corp., $200,000 (assessment for Prime Tanning)
    • Greater Portland Council of Governments, $400,000 (assessment)
    • City of Portland, $800,000 (revolving loan fund)
    • City of Gardiner, $200,000 (assessment)
    • City of Gardiner, $200,000 (cleanup)
    • Midcoast Economic Development District, $820,000 (revolving loan fund)
  • Over 1,200 come together for National Monument meeting in Orono, Maine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

    Photo of US Congresswoman Chellie Piengree, by Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

            

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Value Added cheese produced by Flying Goat Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Proceeds to date for the state are over $77 million

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

  • Broadband bill clears Maine House hurdle with bipartisan support

    Broadband bill clears Maine House hurdle with bipartisan support

    Bill boosts economic development through $1 million in infrastructure funding

    The Maine House of Repersentatives, on March 3, 2016, gave its initial approval to an economic development bill that would expand broadband access in rural Maine. 

    The voted “under the hammer,” or by unanimous consent, on LD 826, An Act To Promote Maine’s Economic Development and Critical Communications for Rural Farms, Businesses and Residence by Strategic Public Investments in High-speed Internet.

    The bill provides $1 million from the General Fund annually to the ConnectME Authority, which is charged with facilitating universal availability of broadband in the state. It would bring total annual funding for ConnectME up to $2.2 million.

    “The House recognized that high-speed, high-capacity Internet access is not a luxury, but as much of a necessity as decent roads and reliable electricity,” said Rep. Robert Saucier, D-Presque Isle, who is sponsoring the bill with the backing of the Aroostook County Farm Bureau and the Maine Farm Bureau. “We need this investment if Maine – all of Maine – is going to prosper and succeed.”

    The state’s primary fiber-optic network, called the Three-Ring Binder, consists of three loops in southern, northern and Downeast Maine. But many Maine communities, homes and businesses remain unconnected to this 1,100-mile long broadband interstate and will not be able to make use of it until the rest of the network – the off-ramps and local road off the interstate – are in place.

    Eighty percent of Maine households are underserved in terms of broadband, and some have no access at all. Adequate access is definite as speeds of 10 mbps for both uploading and downloading, the type of speed needed to videoconference, take an online class or share files with colleagues and clients.

    “Maine needs a 21st century infrastructure if we’re going to compete successfully in the 21st century economy,” said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology. “Kicking the can down the road is no way to jump start economic development or grow good jobs with strong wages. Now is the time to act.” 

    The bill faces further action in the House and Senate.

  • LePage needs to release voter-approved bonds for senior housing

    Last week, the Maine State Housing Authority Board of Directors wrote a letter to Gov. Paul LePage, asking for guidance on when and if he would release voter-approved bonds for affordable senior housing passed by voters.

    “Before we encourage developers to invest their time and money and before we obligate staff resources to this project, it would be helpful to know if and when you plan to approve the bonds,” Maine State Housing Authority Chairman Peter Anastos said.

    The seniors who would have received a safe, warm home and the 70 percent of voters who supported the bonds deserve an answer.

    With rising property taxes, high heating costs and big health care needs, many seniors are forced to give up their homes and move into assisted living facilities, nursing homes or into the homes of adult children or other relatives, who may be struggling to make ends meet themselves.

    And, while we’re already aware our seniors and our families need help, a new series of studies unearth alarming ways in which we’re falling behind.

    nationwide study by the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire found that 40 percent of Maine’s seniors are low income or living in poverty, a percentage higher than our neighboring states of New Hampshire and Vermont.

    This is not the only study that reveals concerning trends for Maine. A recent government survey shows roughly 16 percent of Maine households don’t know where their next meal is coming from, compared to a national average of 14 percent.

    Compounding these problems is a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low-income older adults, which will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by Abt Associates.

    Our seniors face poverty, hunger and constantly rising costs in housing, transportation and food.

    They deserve better. Maine can do better.

    LePage’s 2015 budget attempted to slash funding for the Drugs for the Elderly program that helps 35,000 seniors pay for lifesaving medications.

    In addition, after legislative leaders, including me, crafted the Keep ME Home plan to help support our seniors and their independence, the governor vetoed a number of the bills passed, including important efforts to protect seniors from financial fraud and support caregivers to participate in the health care planning for their loved ones.

    Luckily, legislators came together to override these vetoes, and voters overwhelmingly endorsed our actions with the passage of our affordable senior housing bond at the polls in November.

    Despite the clear and broad support of the Legislature and Maine people, the governor has yet to release these funds. We hope the governor will stick to his word to support the elderly by releasing the bonds, which will help more Maine seniors live in their communities independently.

    Pope Francis once said, “a population that does not take care of the elderly and of children and the young has no future because it abuses both its memory and its promise.”

    While we have made some progress, there is more to be done. Lawmakers have before us meaningful opportunities to help Maine’s seniors supported by both parties in this legislative session.

    Legislators will continue to work on other proposals to help seniors stay in their homes — including increases in wages for direct care workers, funding the Home Weatherization and Repair for Seniors Home Fund and increasing access to transportation services for homebound seniors.

    These proposals and the pending $15 million in affordable housing bonds awaiting release by LePage are common-sense measures that continue our work supporting seniors in our state.

    It is time for all of Maine’s leaders, including LePage, to work together and start honoring Maine’s promise to its seniors and families.

    First published in the Bangor Daily News

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

     

     

     By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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. 

  • To lawmakers: Support a Maine Minimum Wage increase - for moms and kids

    By Katie Logue, Auburn

    There are so many ways that the economy is rigged against women and families and I have seen the impacts first-hand. A few years ago, I was a single mom struggling to make ends meet, making slightly more than the minimum wage ($8 per hour) and trying to support myself and my 6-year-old after my marriage failed.

    My son and I were on food stamps and MaineCare, even though I was working full time. No matter how hard I tried to find appropriate housing, there was no way I could afford $900-$1,000 a month for rent. I had a car payment for a car that wasn’t even safe but was my only way to get to work. Even after I finally saved enough to get an apartment, it was impossible to keep up with the bills.

    At one point, after being evicted, I was living in a homeless shelter while working full time to save enough to get another apartment.

    I know that I am not the only one who has struggled to support my family on poverty wages. I also know that this issue affects women much more than men.

    The majority of minimum-wage workers are women, many of us supporting families.

    Here in Maine, women still earn, on average, just 84 percent of what our male counterparts earn. It is time for a change.

    In January, the Legislature will consider citizen-initiated legislation to increase Maine’s minimum wage. Lawmakers and voters should stand with Maine women and support it. First appeared in the Sun Journal.

  • Maine’s MTI awards more than $82,000 in grants awarded to technology companies

    Photo: MTI grants helped jump-strat the University of Maine's floating off-shore wind technologies that led to the VolturnUS, which is the nation's first offshore wind power that was generated to the grid.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Technology Institute (MTI), the state-backed agency that supports technology startups, has awarded more than $82,000 in grants. During the Baldacci administration grants awarded to Maine companies under MTI increased — fueling an innovation economy and helping research and development at Maine’s research facilities. 

    The University of Maine received grants to start their ocean energy programs, which have led to the creation of various companies, including Ocean Renewable Power Company. ORPC worked with researches to refine their underwater ocean energy turbine composite design. Offshore wind power for floating wind turbine platforms at the Advanced Composite Laboratories also received initial start up grants from MTI, which later led to federal grants. Now UMaine has the most advanced ocean energy research laboratories in the Americas.

    Unfortunately, under the LePage administration there has only been one voter backed bond issue to help R&D in Maine — one. The state needs more voter-approved bonds for this research, so Maine entrepreneurs can start their innovative businesses here, and thereby improve Maine’s economic future for us all.

    "Unlike the scattershot spending of many business tax credits, MTI programs are rigorously competitive, with the awards made by boards composed of peers within the same targeted business sectors," said Seth Berry, former Maine House Majority Leader and current Vice President for Business Development at Kennebec River Biosciences. "That's why in a 2014 independent evaluation, MTI's Development Loan program was found to have an ROI (return on investment) to the taxpayer of 12.4 percent —  something any businessperson recognizes as a success. Just imagine if we could grow Maine's overall economy at that rate!"

    Kennebec River Biosciences Inc., of Richmond won a  $20,000 Business Accelerator Grant, and has matching funds of $24,560.

    All these grants need private matching funds, which are expected to total more than $101,000. These TechStart Grants are awarded to companies or entrepreneurs seeking to develop their ideas into new innovative products or services.

     The most recent recipients are:

    • Farmer Brown Organics of Presque Isle, $5,000 (match, $6,076);

    • Heatek Energy of Auburn, $2,050 (match, $5,300);

    • Limbeck Engineering of Freeport, $2,000 (match, $2,035);

    • Q-Team Inc. of Naples, $5,000 (match, $13,000).

    MTI also awarded Business Accelerator Grants to three companies. The grants are intended to help the companies enhance their competitiveness, develop products and internal business systems, and apply for federal money.

    They are:

    • Cerahelix Inc. of Orono, $15,000 (match, $16,376);

    • Kennebec River Biosciences Inc. of Richmond, $20,000 (match, $24,560);

    • Municipay of Scarborough, $28,723 (match, $28,723).

    Also, a Phase 0 Kickstarter Grant of $4,990 was awarded to Alba-Technic of Winthrop to help it seek small business research grants from the federal government. The company provided a match of $5,000.

    The next round of grant applications closes on Feb. 2, 2016.

  • Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative leads way in USA for carbon reduction to meet Paris protocol - a model example

    At the Paris Climate Change Conference over 350 state and local elected officials, representing every state, launched a sign on letter calling for 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and 100 percent clean energy by 2050. More elected officials are expected to sign on the letter in the coming days.

    A number of current and former elected officials organized the “elected official’s letter” initiative including former Maine State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx, former Councilor and Deputy Town Supervisor Town of Caroline, New York, Dominic Frongillo, and California East Bay Municipal Utility District Director Andy Katz.

    “We organized this initiative to highlight the important work state and local governments are doing to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution, despite many members of Congress who lack the leadership to protect our families and communities,” said Cornell du Houx.

    Over 17 elected officials from Maine signed the letter, including Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck. When Hinck was a member of the Maine state legislature he worked tirelessly on clean energy initiatives. He helped with the law that made Maine part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative leads (RGGI). The RGGI, America’s first cap-n-trade agreement, has earned the state over $74 million that has been invested in clean energy initiatives. The legislation had a unanimous vote for implementation during the Baldacci administration.

    “The RGGI gives Northeast States a start in the worldwide effort to increase efficiency and meet power demand without fueling climate change,” said Hinck.

    The transition to renewable energy sources creates jobs and opportunities.

    Farmington’s new Medical Arts Center at Franklin Community Health Network’s is saving energy while delivering critical medical care, in a large part, because of $59,532 in incentives from RGGI funds awarded by the state’s Efficiency Maine — the agency that channels RGGI earnings to clean energy projects.

    RGGI estimates a return of more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households, and 17,800 businesses. California's Cap-and-Trade Program, which started in 2012, generated $969 million in revenue for the state through the end of 2014. It is expected to generate $2 billion a year or more in the future.

    The RGGI states have experienced over a 40 percent reduction in power sector carbon pollution since 2005, while the regional economy has grown eight percent. “This proves that we can reduce pollution that’s putting our communities’ health at risk while growing jobs and prosperity. From East Coast to West Coast — states and local communities are leading the way,” said Katz.

    PHOTO: Former State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx speaking at the Paris summit.

    California, the world’s 7th largest economy, recently passed legislation to achieve 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and has started down that road with their own form of RGGI.

    “California’s example shows that climate action can be an engine for broadly shared economic prosperity,” said California Senator President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, at the “elected official’s letter” Paris press conference on December 8th. “By promoting the development of clean energy resources, we are simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and creating jobs that can lift families out of poverty. If Congress won’t act, it’s incumbent on state and local leaders to do the job for them.”

    When Congress has been gridlocked over how to combat climate change local communities have taken on the challenge.

    This year, the United States has hit many clean energy milestones. America has added more clean power than natural gas, with clean energy generation up 11 percent while natural gas generation declined. During this time, jobs in the solar power industry grew 20 times faster than the rest of the economy.

    "We want the rest of the world to know that the climate-denying, anti-science voices in Congress do not represent America,” said Nick Rathod, Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange. “Innovations at the state level often drive our national policy forward and that is exactly what is happening in the fight against climate change. States are leading the way."

    With the historic treaty to reduce carbon emissions worldwide that was reached in Paris on December 12, 2015 more clean energy projects need to be implemented.

    “Now we really have to step up the effort and meet the challenge,” said Hinck.

    The “elected official’s letter” initiative also supports the implementation of President Obama's Clean Power Plan, as it will bring the U.S. within seven percent of the stated goal.

    “We appreciate the administration’s leadership and commitment to working with state and local government,” said Cornell du Houx. “This letter is only the beginning. We will be working with state and local elected officials across America to ensure a healthier and safer future for our children. As leaders responsible for America’s present and future prosperity, we must take action now.”

  • Unique gifts at the Hallowell Holiday Gift Shop with work of nearly fifty local artists

    By Ramona du Houx

    With the Flow and the Holiday Pottery Shop have teamed up to offer an amazing array of local artisan's work just in time for the holidays.

    Once inside customers are astounded with the displays of unique gifts. Many exclamations of excitement can be heard as shoppers discover gifts for that special somebody- or themselves.

    The store is located at 100 Water Street – 'the big red building' just up from the riverfront park at Winthrop Street.

    “This building gives us plenty of room to display the work of local artisans in a big bright space with plenty of parking right beside it. Combine this with all the other great shopping and dining in Hallowell and you have a shopping experience you can look forward to instead of dreading,” said Geoff Houghton, co-owner of the building and owner of the Liberal Cup.

    With the Flow is a new shop featuring locally made nature-themed T-shirts from Liberty Graphics.

    “We carry over fifty of Liberty Graphic's most popular designs in sizes ranging from infant oneseys to adult XXL. Especially popular as gifts are the Robert McCloskey books and and matching shirt designs from Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine,” said Will Sugg, owner of With the Flow. 

    In addition to Liberty Graphics T-shirts, posters, and cards With the Flow features past year's posters from the Common Ground Country Fair, farm products from Sprucebush Farm, Beyond Coffee, Hinterland Photography cards and prints, Richard Macdonald Stained Glass, Kristin Bishop Felt Critters, Untitled Herbs bath products, Hallowell Soap Works fine soaps, Maine Balsam Fir Products, N44º Woodworks crafts and wreaths, Toki Art cards, All Star Hula Hoops and toys, and sonrisa henna studio tattoos on weekends.

    The Holiday Pottery Shop, sponsored by Central Maine Clay Artists, is in its eighth year hosting a pop-up shop.

    The work features Loken Pottery, The Potter's House, Maple Lane Pottery, Mudgirl Pottery, Malley Weber, Fine Mess Pottery, Ditch Lily Pottery, Lakeside Pottery, Alley Cat Pottery and Hyydraworks!, and the jewelry of Spirt House, Boyd Johnson and Jean McWillams.

    “We also feature the glass work of Faith Benedetti, the fine art of Helene Farrar and Lori Austell, fiber by Susan Blasidell, Riverdog Designs, Norma McDonough and Wendy Harrington, woodwork by Cheryl Scibeliti, and personal care products by  Moonshadow Farm and Aurelie All Natural,” said shop coordinator Mary Kay Spencer.

    Patrons hope the shop will continue throughout the year.

    For more information please click on the links:

    With the Flow

     Holiday Pottery Shop

    For more images of the work please go here.

  • Technology consulting firm to create 200 jobs in Waterville Hathaway Center thanks to Colby’s President Greene

    Colby College President David A. Greene and William C. Robichaud, Collaborative Consulting’s founder and CEO during the announcement which will bring 200 jobs to Waterville, Maine.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Earlier this month, in partnership with Colby College, Collaborative Consulting announced the opening of a digital/data delivery center in Waterville that will eventually create 200 jobs.

    Known as Collaborative Waterville, the facility will be located in Waterville’s Hathaway Creative Center, and will open in January of 2016 with a first wave of 20 employees. Collaborative Consulting, a privately held consulting firm based in Burlington, Mass., will have clients that need digital and data solutions tailored to advance their business strategies and goals.

    “Waterville is an ideal fit for us because of its dynamic community, exceptional workforce and impressive educational infrastructure focused on innovation,” said William C. Robichaud, Collaborative Consulting’s founder and CEO.

    Robichaud noted that many clients have Northeast roots and will benefit from the center’s proximity and alliance with Colby, which will include student internships as well as faculty and staff training, and professional development opportunities.

    The Hathaway Center, above, will be where Collaborative Consulting is bringing 200 jobs. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “By partnering with Colby, we will cultivate an environment of innovation, envisioning what future business environments will look like and creating solutions that address the needs of this rapidly changing digital world,” said Robichaud.

    Colby College President David A. Greene promoted the economic and cultural vitality Waterville has to offer to Robichaud with such enthusiasm — he convinced Robichaud to locate here when he heard he needed to expand.

    "The man wouldn't take no," said Robichaud. "We had a fantastic meeting a few weeks back."

    Over the past year, because of Greene’s leadership Colby College has purchased several downtown buildings that are in desperate need of historic renovations. What the college intends to do with the properties is still being discussed. Greene has held community discussions about Waterville’s future potential and the role Colby would play in it.

    “This city has so much to offer, and it’s gratifying that Collaborative Consulting was attracted to Waterville for the reasons so many of us are — three colleges, a growing arts and cultural focus, a Main Street with terrific potential,” said Greene. “When Colby began partnering with the city and others on revitalization efforts, we knew that sustained economic development would be critical to supporting the long-term needs of the people of Waterville and central Maine. ”

    Collaborative Waterville also intends to work with Thomas College and Kennebec Valley Community College providing internships and possible future employment.

    “Collaborative Consulting’s decision to grow their business in Waterville is great news and is a testament to the ingenuity and vast potential of our state’s workforce,” said Senator Angus King in a statement. “I applaud Collaborative’s vision and commitment to add high-paying 21st century jobs in Maine, to build on the TechHire effort, and to enhance the vibrant entrepreneurial partnerships led by Colby, Thomas, and Kennebec Valley Community Colleges that will help strengthen communities in central Maine.” 

     PHOTO: William C. Robichaud, Collaborative Consulting’s founder and CEO making the announcement which will bring 200 jobs to Waterville, Maine.

    The Hathaway Creative Center has been a successful renovation of a historic shirt factory using Maine’s Historic tax credit, established with the help of one of the developers, Tom Niemann of Niemann Capitol. Niemann partnered with Paul Boghossian, a Colby graduate, at the urging of Maine’s Department of Economic and Development Commissioner Jack Cashman, in 2007, for the Hathaway Center’s development.

    Historic Preservation brings numerous financial benefits to the state’s communities.  Preservation drives downtown revitalization and neighborhood rehabilitation, enhances real estate markets, grows the tax bases, attracts heritage tourists,as well as new residents, and allows for a more sustainable reuse of infrastructure.

    The Maine Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit passed in 2008, during the Baldacci administration. Since then, 62 privately developed projects have been completed or are underway, investing over $335 million in construction expenditures. These projects have facilitated creation of many new businesses and over 800 housing units, with 600 affordable housing. Many of these buildings were formerly vacant, dragging down the real estate market around them. After rehab they have raised the market and fostered additional nearby investment. Over 32 large and small cities and towns across the state host historic tax credit projects.

    The Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville, Maine, after the renovation. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    The credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in tax liability or a refund, for expenditures on the rehab of income-producing historic buildings such as commercial, industrial and residential-rental properties.  The state credit is 25 percent of the total qualified rehab expenses, with affordable housing eligible for a 31 percent State credit. This is added to an additional 20 percent federal historic credit, for a total of 45 percent, or 51 percent for affordable housing. For developers and communities it’s a good deal.

    The historic preservation tax credit has helped turn cities with historic buildings into economic centers of charm and character. It also continues to make Maine’s downtowns more attractive to investors than building strip malls. No doubt, Colby College will use the historic tax credit on their newly purchased Waterville buildings.

    Since the Hathaway Creative Center’s dedication in 2008 the renovation project has won several awards, and all of the 67 loft apartments are fully occupied. The office spaces have been substantially built out. Collaborative Consulting will be neighbors with MaineGeneral Hospital, HealthReach Network and USI Insurance.

     For more about Collaborative Consulting go HERE.

     

  • Citizens, workers, businesses, and others urge adoption of strong solar policy for Maine

    Maine is falling behind on solar power and jobs 

    By Ramona du Houx

    A diverse group of over 70 people and organizations gathered on December 10th at the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to urge policymakers to develop and adopt a comprehensive solar policy that can move Maine out of last place in the region for solar power and solar jobs. Since September, the PUC has been holding a series of stakeholder meetings to develop and evaluate solar policy concepts and it plans to issue a report to lawmakers in the coming legislative session.

    “Solar power is creating huge opportunities for job creation across the region and across the country,” said Nick Paquet, an electrician with the IBEW union. “Every megawatt of solar power means 20 electricians put to work. Maine has made good strides toward renewable energy and renewable energy jobs, but we’re woefully behind on solar. That should change if we are serious about providing more good quality jobs for Mainers.”

    Maine’s lack of a comprehensive solar policy is hurting our economy and environment and leaves the state missing out on the full benefits of solar to lower energy costs. Recent analysis has shown that solar power in Maine can reduce electricity costs for everyone because it operates during peak hours and is typically located close to where power is consumed.

    In 2005, Governor John Baldacci established Maine's first solar rebate program. However, funds have since run out for the inititive and Governor Paul LePage has not had the wisdom to continue the program. While the Baldacci adminstration led to bipartisan agreements, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Inititive (RGGI) and others,  progressing clean energy technologies in Maine, the LePage administration is in climate change denial. (photo of Governor Baldacci at the kick-start of his rebate program. photo by Ramona du Houx)

    “Like most people, I had gotten used to just paying my electric bill every month and didn’t know that I had any choice over price or how that electricity is generated,” said Portland resident Elissa Armstrong. “Recently, my husband and I have invested in solar panels on our house and also in a community solar project. It is a great relief to keep our energy dollars here in Maine, where the sun shines. Now that solar has come down in price, there is a tremendous opportunity for nearly all Mainers to make an upfront investment to get off the expensive dependence on power from away.”

    Solar technology and markets have exploded over the last few years as prices have fallen dramatically—nearly 75 percent in the last five years. In the last three years alone, the U.S. has installed roughly 15,000 MW of solar capacity – as much as fifteen nuclear power plants. In 2014, there were 186,000 new residential solar systems installed. (GTM Market Insights, 2014)

    “Because Maine is one of the few states that lacks pro-solar policies, Maine families and businesses are missing out on the enormous economic and environmental benefits of advanced solar energy technology,” said Glen Brand, Sierra Club Maine Chapter Director. “It’s time for our state to move forward with a solar policy that builds upon what’s working to reduce pollution, create good jobs, and lower and stabilize energy costs, while helping Mainers to become more energy secure and independent.”

    However, at the start of 2015, Maine had the lowest amount of solar installed per capita in the region, and the lowest number of solar jobs per capita. In the first half of this year, Maine’s newly installed solar placed it among the bottom 15 of the fifty states, while every other state in the Northeast was in the top twenty-six. (GTM Market Insights, 2015-Q2)

    The Maine Legislature has failed to pass any substantive solar policy in the past three sessions, in large part due to opposition from the governor or utilities. Last year the Legislature had to override the governor’s veto to develop an analysis of the value of solar for Maine ratepayers. That analysis by the PUC surprised many by showing that solar power actually lowers prices for all ratepayers by bringing down the cost of transmission lines and reducing the use of the most expensive power plants during the summer.

    Earlier this year the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of a Resolve that directed the PUC to conduct a stakeholder process and seek consensus on a significant new solar policy—a process that was supported by solar advocates and utilities alike.

    “Although there are many issues are not yet resolved, these PUC meetings have been extremely constructive,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “As we look to the upcoming session, lawmakers will need to show leadership to put an effective solar policy into law that will get Maine out of last place on solar. It is clear that three is overwhelming support for solar, here in Maine.”

    Despite the lack of a clear solar policy, Mainers are increasingly investing in solar power for their homes, businesses, and communities. Most are taking advantage of Maine’s net-metering rules. Net-metering allows customers to get bill credits for solar production that can be used to offset the cost of power they consume from the grid. Although it does not work as well for larger solar installations, net-metering makes it easier for residential customers to install solar. Therefore solar supporters said that net-metering should stay in place as new alternatives are explored and evaluated.

    Opportunities for Solar farms to power towns and communities-

    Photo: The Freeport community solar farm being built by ReVison Energy.

    “The electricity bill for the City of Rockland costs taxpayers over $400,000/year in taxes and fees,” said Rockland City Councilor Larry Pritchett. “Across Maine, towns and cities own 1,800 acres of capped landfills that could be excellent sites for developing solar farms to generate power for cities and schools, or for community solar farms to provide power to local residents and businesses. Many of these could be excellent sites for developing solar farms to generate power for city. Despite many solar landfills in other states, Maine’s outdated rate structures, and lack of solar policy, make it almost impossible for towns to recoup the cost of solar investment and achieve the tremendous benefits for our citizens that solar can offer.”

    The diverse group of solar supporters did said they are looking for a solar policy that:

    • Increases the amount of solar installed in Maine, increasing renewable energy generation and stability for more solar jobs. (The PUC has determined that the status quo is likely to yield 100-150 MW of solar by 2021.)          
    • Treats solar homeowners and businesses fairly—protecting their ability to generate their own power and recognizing the value of the solar they provide to the grid—while providing a clear benefit for other ratepayers.
    • Works well for solar customers of all sorts and sizes, from homeowners to large businesses, and from community solar to grid-scale solar farms.

    “Maine congregations are starting to look more at solar power, for their church buildings and with their members,” said Reverend Carrie Johnson, the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta. “Solar is an important part of our response to the threat of climate change, which people of faith are deeply concerned about. It is also a way for individuals and communities—including congregations—to take direct action to reduce our own dependence on fossil fuels. With state policy as a partner, there is tremendous opportunity for us to work together for a solar future for Maine.”

  • Lawmakers tour five production, education, and shipping facilities during Portland Waterfront jobs tour

    Maine lawmakers Rep. Jorgensen, Rep. Moonen, Rep. Russell, Sen. Alfond, Speaker Eves, Rep. Chipman, Rep. Farnsworth, with Bert Jongerden of the Fish Exchange, Bill Needelman Portland's Waterfront Coordinator and Ray Swenton of Bristol Seafood toured the Portland Fish Exchange with Ray Swenton of Bristol Seafood. Courtesy photo.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine State House Speaker Mark Eves joined Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond and Rep. Matthew Moonen and Rep. Diane Russell in their districts with other Portland lawmakers and city officials to tour businesses and facilities along the city waterfront. The visit was a continuation of a statewide jobs tour launched in January by Eves.

    Most of these state Representatives were present during Governor John Baldacci's tenure when voter bonds were used to help build up the waterfront, dredging and establishing a pier. The grants helped the city promote the deep city port, which has attracted Eimskip from Iceland as well as more cruse ships.

    “Maine’s marine economy is vital to the strength of our state,” said Eves. “It was great to witness the deep commitment shared by employees, industry experts and business and community leaders to innovation and the creation of enduring partnerships between public and private sectors that will make Maine second to none."

    Representatives Erik Jorgensen, Ben Chipman and Richard Farnsworth were also present for the tours of Bristol Seafood, Portland Fish Exchange, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the Ready Seafood Company, and Eimskip’s facility at the International Marine Terminal.

    “Meeting with the people who have helped make Portland the economic and cultural juggernaut it is today was a thrill and a privilege,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland. “We should all look to the experience of entrepreneurs, business owners and workers who have created a thriving economy in Portland, and replicate their success elsewhere in our state.”

    Lawmakers, Maine House Speaker Eves, Sen. Alfond, Rep. Russell and Rep. Moonen, visit Bristol Seafood in Portland, Maine, on a jobs tour. Courtesy photo.

    Legislators began the tour at Bristol Seafood and Portland Fish Exchange. The Portland Fish Exchange, opened in 1986, is America’s first all-display fresh seafood auction. Over 20 million pounds of seafood are bought and sold each year at the Exchange.

    "The Portland waterfront is a critical component of the Maine employment picture. Fisheries, transportation, tourism, and industry supply goods, services, and jobs for the region. These jobs rely on access to the water and investment in aging infrastructure to continue and to grow," said Bill Needelman, Waterfront Coordinator for the city of Portland. "The City is pleased to work with the legislature and all branches of state government to strengthen marine employment on Portland's waterfront."

    Lawmakers also toured the Cohen Center for Interactive Learning at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. GMI recently was awarded it's largest grant of $6.5 million NASA to support climate change education. During the Baldacci administration GMI regularly would receive grants from Maine from bonds, which has helped GMI grow its diverse programs.

    “The Cohen Center for Interactive Learning is a great example of how education can help children and families understand Maine’s marine economy and why it’s so important,” said Representative Moonen. “It was great to see such comprehensive research made accessible and family friendly. Understanding is the first step towards action.”

    Ready Seafood Company, stop four on the tour, is a family owned and Maine grown business that employs over 50 and sources millions of pounds of live lobster ranging from the Gulf of Maine to the Canadian Maritimes.

    "We saw countless examples of ingenuity and dedication to quality that help raise the standards for not only Maine but New England as well," said Rep. Russell. "We remain committed to supporting Portland's thriving waterfront industries and the people and families who rely on them."

    Lawmakers closed out the tour at Eimskip’s facilities at the International Marine Terminal. Eimskip is Iceland’s oldest shipping company, and has offices in 19 countries worldwide.

  • 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.

  • Broadband project could create open access fiber network from downtown through Portland's Back Cove

     

    The City of Portland has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking fiber optic connectivity to its new Canco Road facilities. The City maintains a fiber optic INET (institutional network), which provides connectivity to all City and School buildings, and consists of five 10 GB network switches.

    The new connectivity is necessary as the City is in the process of consolidating public works, fire, and recreation operations to new facilities in two buildings at 212 and 250 Canco Road. The City would like to explore the possibility of using this project to create phase one of an open access fiber network starting in downtown Portland and ending at Canco Road. An open access fiber network could offer high speed fiber optics to both residential and commercial properties along this route.

    “We’re very excited about the possibility that this project could bring with it an added bonus for a large portion of our residents and businesses,” said Jon Jennings, City Manager. “Giving our citizens along this line a path to affordable high speed connectivity will spur economic development. There are several possible options for implementing this, and we look forward to exploring the costs and benefits of each.”

    The project could involve running a minimum number of single mode fiber strands to the City’s closest INET building, this option would likely be the least expensive, but would only serve immediate needs (see option #1 below).  Additionally, the City would like to explore the possibility of using this project to create phase one of an open access fiber network starting in downtown Portland and ending at Canco Road (see option #2 below).  An open access fiber network could offer high speed fiber optics to both residential and commercial properties along the route.  In the case of the Rockport and South Portland open access fiber projects, potential customers along the fiber route were offered internet access speeds of 1 GB for an affordable monthly rate.

     

     

    All proposers should be aware that the award of this contract, as a result of this request, is based upon appropriation of funds granted and/or accepted by the Portland City Council.

    Sealed responses will be received by the Purchasing Office, City Hall, Room 103, until 3:00 PM,

    Thursday, December 10, 2015. Proposals from vendors not registered with the Purchasing Office may be rejected. There is a mandatory pre-proposal conference for all prospective bidders that will be held in Room 209 of City Hall on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:00 AM. Only those firms represented at this meeting may submit a proposal for this project.

    "In my State of the City address earlier this year, I announced that we needed to increase broadband in the city, and this is a concrete step in the right direction," said Mayor Michael Brennan. "I've been working with the Mayor's Coalition to support legislative initiatives to increase broadband, including testifying last month before the legislative group, ConnectME, to support more broadband access in Maine." 

     

  • Maine lawmakers want to invest in citizens instead of income tax breaks for wealthy with liquor contract funds

    Democratic lawmakers are proposing legislation for the second session that would use some of the revenue from the state’s liquor contract to invest in Maine’s future and assist some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

    Four bills are seeking to use a portion of the liquor contract revenues for transportation, public education, heating assistance and to reduce the waiting lists for non-medical services that help Mainers with disabilities live independently. Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Republican Party, meanwhile, are proposing to use the funds to lower and eventually eliminate the state income tax.

    “Do Mainers want to use these funds to provide a tax break to the wealthiest Mainers that will mean higher property and sales for the rest of us? How can we justify that when there so many other pressing needs, like the ones addressed by each of these bills?” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “I agree with the governor that heating assistance for needy families is a top priority. Here’s a way to provide that without harming public lands as his unsustainable and possibly unconstitutional timber harvesting plan would do.”

    The bills are:

    • LR2359, An Act To Provide Heating Assistance for Maine Seniors and Families (House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe)
    • LR 2488, An Act To Revitalize Infrastructure Investment To Create Jobs (sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon)
    • LR 2450, An Act To Eliminate the Waiting List for Community-based Services Provided under MaineCare for Individuals with a Brain Injury, an Intellectual Disability or Autism (Rep. Drew Gattine)
    • LR 2553, An Act To Transfer Excess Revenue from the State’s Liquor Contract in Fiscal Year 2016-17 to General Purpose Aid to Local Schools (Rep. John Martin)

     

    On each of these bills, the Legislative Council voted 5-5 last month to allow it in for the second session that begins in January. For sessions in even-numbered years, bills need a majority vote to advance to the full Legislature.

    The sponsors of these four bills are appealing the decisions. The Legislative Council will consider appeals on Nov. 19.

    “There‘s broad bipartisan consensus that Maine’s economy cannot realize its full potential without a robust transportation system,” said Gideon, D-Freeport. “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. That is a much better investment than tax cuts for the wealthy.”

    Gideon is appealing as a new report underscores Maine’s pressing transportation needs. Fifteen percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and 18 percent are functionally obsolete, according to thereport by TRIP. Earlier this year, the Maine Department found that current funding levels are at only half the level needed to maintain the safety and integrity of state bridges.

    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.

    Liquor contract revenues could also make a big difference in the lives of Mainers with intellectual disabilities by providing services that help them live independently in their communities.

    “We should all be able to agree that we need to protect Maine’s most vulnerable citizens. We have a wonderful opportunity to help Mainers with disabilities live more independently – without sacrificing seniors’ ability to pay for their medicines as the governor tried to do,” said Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Ask yourself, ‘What’s the priority? A tax giveaway for the state’s highest earners that will blow a hole in future budgets? Or key services for our neighbors with intellectual disabilities, with the feds tripling our investment”     

    Martin’s bill would into put liquor contract revenue into the General Purpose Aid, the state’s baseline share of funding for K-12 public education.

    “The governor and the GOP have hatched a scheme to provide a windfall to the wealthy. The budget hole they would create would be so big that it would swallow up all state funding for local schools, higher education and more,” said Martin, D-Eagle Lake, who is on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and is a board member of School Administrative District 27. “Instead of shifting the tax burden to everyday Mainers and their communities, let’s put money in classrooms so it can benefit our kids and our state’s economy.”

    The new state liquor contracts are yielding higher profits that expected. The first year resulted in $46 million profit, which puts the state on track to exceed the $450 million in profits originally expected over the 10-year life of the contracts. Approximately $9.7 million in revenue from the contracts’ first year is not earmarked for hospital debt bond repayment or other items.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Maine's legislative leaders set agenda for upcoming session

    The governing body of the Maine Legislature voted today to accept 33 bills for consideration by lawmakers during the second session of the 127th Legislature, which begins in January.

    The bipartisan Legislative Council, made up of five Democrats and five Republican leaders, must approve any new bill requests from lawmakers for the four-month session, which is by statute reserved for emergency or time-sensitive measures.

    “With only four months to work next session, each and every bill must have bipartisan support and meet the emergency criteria to move forward,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves, who chairs the council. “Our focus next session must be on bills that help improve the lives of Maine people and help boost our lagging economy.”

    Lawmakers approved several key measures to help grow the economy, including Brunswick Senator Stan Gerzofsky’s measure to create and sustain high quality Maine jobs and Harpswell Rep. Jay McCreight’s bill to help ease student loan debts. Democrats and Republicans came together to also approve a measure to ensure Land For Maine’s Future bonds don’t expire.

    “On issues such as economic development and honoring the will of Maine people by supporting voter-approved conservation project, we are laser-focused on the issues that matter for our state.” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland. “We have high expectations for this session. In divided government, we need to come together, not get bogged down in partisan games.”

    Democratic lawmakers shot down several measures targeting Planned Parenthood, which aimed to roll back access to healthcare for women and families.

    Lawmakers submitted nearly 400 new bill requests, in addition to the 176 bills carried over from last session and 20 bills submitted by state agencies.

    A full list of the approved bills will be available on the Legislative web site soon.

    The council will hear appeals on bills that were rejected on Nov. 19.

  • 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.

  • New poll finds Maine electorate overwhelmingly supports release of Land for Maine’s Future funds

    91 percent Democrats, 76 percent Independents, 54 percent Republicans from every region of the state support Legislation to Release Voter-Approved Bonds Even When They Hear Other Arguments

    By Ramona du Houx

    Governor Paul LePage has held funds to protect and preserve land in Maine for all Mainers hostage. The program he is strangling is called Land for Maine's Future, LMF. The program expanded areas in Baxter Park, and across the state under the Baldacci administration. But nothing has been done to preserve lands with the LePage administration. In fact, the opposite has happened with more land being opened to loggers. LePage has also tried to stop the board of LMF from functioning. The people of Maine love their state, and the evidence is in with a new poll which shows strong support for LMF.

    “This poll is the latest indication that Maine people, across the state and from all walks of life, are benefitting from and valuing the economic importance of Land for Maine’s Future investments,” shared Maine Coast Heritage Trust President Tim Glidden. “It is time policymakers empower this popular land conservation program, so that it can once again fulfill the wishes of Maine voters.”  

    Headed into the next legislative session, new data from the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates finds that Maine Democrats, Independents and Republicans from every part of the state overwhelmingly support the release of all voter-approved Land for Maine’s Future funds even when they hear a simulation of the debate that has been occurring on the issue. 

    “We have heard months of debate and suggestions that LMF only benefits the wealthy or that voter-approved bond funds can be used as political leverage,” said Tom Abello, Senior Policy Advisor at The Nature Conservancy in Maine.  “What this poll tells us is that voters know better and are not buying any of it.  We hope Legislators are listening.” 

    It's important to note out door sports enthusiasts support LMF.

    “Understanding how valuable LMF investments are to trengthening our economy, especially in rural areas, I am not at all surprised by these numbers”  said Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine Executive Director David Trahan. “Sportsmen and women and outdoor groups know that LMF benefits all Mainers, not the rich.  We again ask the Governor and legislators to listen and release LMF funds now.”  

    Highlights:

    • 74 percent  - Overall support for releasing LMF funds: Given a brief, neutral explanation of the two perspectives on LMF funding (see attached memo), 74 percent of Maine people say the Governor should release voter-approved bond funds. 
    • Only 16 percent side with the idea that the Governor should not release LMF funds.  Those supporting the release of LMF funds include:

    -          91 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents and 54 percent of Republicans.

    -          More than 70 percent of Mainers in every region of the state: coastal Maine (75 percent), Northeast (76 percent), South (76 percent) and Central (72 percent)

    By a margin of 79 percent to 16 percent Maine voters reject withholding LMF bonds until the Legislature approves an unrelated law to use revenue from timber harvests on state lands to fund a separate government program to help low-income Maine residents upgrade their heating systems.  Seventy-nine percent chose, instead, to support the view that “once the people of Maine have spoken at the ballot box, no one individual – even the Governor – ought to have the right to veto that decision.”

    By a margin of 73 percent to 12 percent of Maine voters believe that LMF funds benefit all Mainers and visitors versus only benefiting “wealthy landowners.” 

    “We are not surprised to see such strong support for LMF regardless of political affiliation or region in Maine,” said Wolfe Tone of The Trust for Public Land.  “Voters have overwhelmingly approved these bonds at the ballot box six times.  With more than 30 projects in limbo across the state, Mainers understand how withholding LMF funds is hurting their own local economy. It is time to release LMF funding and allow these investments to move forward.”

  • Maine: where women, children can’t meet basic needs has the wrong priorities

    Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Come election time, it seems every politician loves the ladies. It makes sense — women are registered to vote in higher numbers than men and turn out to vote at higher rates. But how do candidates’ declarations of admiration and affection for mothers, wives and daughters translate into public policy? Look a little more closely, and you’ll find a reality wildly out of step with their flowery words.

    Recently released U.S. Census data demonstrate once again that when we talk about poverty, we are talking about women and children. One in seven American women lived in poverty in 2014, and rates are especially high among women who head families, African American women, Latina women, women over age 65 living alone and women with disabilities. More than two-thirds of the elderly poor are women. Women represent 63 percent of minimum wage workers, 63 percent of part-time workers and 53 percent of the working poor.

    The numbers in Maine are largely consistent with those nationally, with one sad and frustrating exception. In Maine, 58 percent of single mothers of children under 5 live in poverty, a rate far higher than that of the nation. Furthermore, Maine stands out among the New England states for the number of women living in poverty, working part time and earning less than $20,000 per year.

    Poverty rates matter because economic security has a bearing on every other aspect of a woman’s life. Whether a woman has money and how she earns it affects her health, her ability to escape a violent relationship, her ability to chart her own life, her children’s prospects. In other words, the well-being of women is integral to the well-being of society as a whole and a state in which women and children cannot meet their most basic needs is one that has chosen the wrong priorities.

    For far too long, we have been encouraged to believe that economic circumstances, like the weather, are something outside of our control. Furthermore, we’ve been told that poverty is an individual failing rather than a societal one. In reality, millions of American women struggle to support themselves and their families no matter how hard they work due to the combined effects of systematic discrimination established in law long ago and more recent changes to the workplace that allow businesses to profit while treating employees as though they are disposable.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. We can, together, make different public policy choices in order to build a strong middle class and a healthier society where everyone has a chance to succeed. Those choices include ensuring that:

    — Everyone in Maine can meet their basic needs like food and housing.

    — Each child gets off to a healthy start in life, with the nutrition and nurturing that build strong brains and create a foundation for later success.

    — Adults can continue to get an education, acquiring and updating skills to meet the needs of an ever-changing economy.

    — All Mainers have access to the full range of health care, not only for their well-being and dignity, but also so that that they can earn a living.

    — Our workplace policies — wages, scheduling, the ability to earn paid sick time, access to paid leave to address a major life event — reflect the realities of families in the 21st century.

    Building a future in which all Mainers thrive, including eliminating poverty among women and children, is no small undertaking. Yet we already know the building blocks to success. What is required is the will to make change, and the collective effort of Mainers in the political, philanthropic, business and nonprofit sectors.

    There isn’t a moment to lose. Those interested in improving life for women and their families can join us for the Maine Women’s Summit on Economic Security on Friday, Oct. 16, at the Augusta Civic Center.

    Eliza Townsend is the executive director of the Maine Women’s Policy Center.

  • Logging contractors, CAT Forest Products and three Maine community colleges announce new training program for mechanized logging

    By  Ramona du Houx

    The Professional Logging Contractors (PLC) of Maine, Milton CAT/CAT Forest Products and three Maine community college partners joined state legislators and students at a press conference today to announce the creation of the region’s first post-secondary mechanized logging operators training program.

    The program was created through a public-private partnership between the state, the Community College System, and logging industry leaders to train loggers on innovative technology that is transforming the industry and work in the Maine woods. It is expected to begin operating early in 2016.

    The announcement took place at Gerald Pelletier, Inc. on the Golden Road in Millinocket, and included a live demonstration of mechanized logging equipment by employees of the company. Gerald Pelletier is a founding member of the PLC and was showcased on the Discovery Channel television show, American Loggers.

    “Maine has been a leader nationally with respect to timber harvesting for the past two hundred years,” said Dana Doran, PLC Executive Director. “The creation of this new program not only fulfills a great need that exists with our industry at the present time, but it provides a great example of how Maine’s professional logging contractors lead the way in tackling issues and finding solutions which will sustain this industry for years to come.”

    Peter Collins, Forestry Industry Manager for Milton CAT, announced the donation of $1.2 million of equipment to the new program.

    “This program will ensure that the next generation of loggers in Maine has the skills they need to provide a good living for their families and care for the forest - Milton CAT and Caterpillar are excited to play a role,” said Peter Collins, Forestry Industry Manager for Milton CAT, when he announced the donation of $1.2 million of equipment to the new program.

    Additional support for the program is being sought from Maine Speaker of the House Mark W. Eves' program, ‘Put ME to Work’, which was recently enacted by the Maine Legislature and provides $1 million for the next two years to support creation of new job training programs at Maine’s community colleges.

    “I'm very proud of the bipartisan work lawmakers did this session to help make this new logging training program possible," said Speaker Eves, who led the effort to pass the "Put ME to Work" job training initiative and funding in the state budget. "By bringing workers, students, and employers together to support job training, we are helping to create good paying jobs for loggers across our state. Logging is a very important and growing industry in our state, and we must prepare our workforce for the innovations that are changing how people work in the woods."

    Once fully functional, the new certificate program will be offered on a rotating basis at different locations throughout northern and eastern Maine. It is designed to produce professional equipment operators with the knowledge and skills necessary to fill industry vacancies in mechanical forest operations throughout Maine, and is being developed in response to industry demand.

    “This project represents the progress that can be made when industry leaders, educators and state government focus on addressing a problem,” said President Timothy Crowley of NMCC . “Caterpillar’s commitment to this program is pivotal to its success. We are fortunate to have such outstanding partners.”

    “This program represents the very best that is possible when our public institutions partner with private industry,” said President Joseph Cassidy of WCCC and EMCC.

    Once fully functional, the new certificate program will be offered on a rotating basis at different locations throughout northern and eastern Maine. It is designed to produce professional equipment operators with the knowledge and skills necessary to fill industry vacancies in mechanical forest operations throughout Maine, and is being developed in response to industry demand.

    In classroom and hands on settings, students will be taught machine operation and repair, maintenance, harvesting laws, best management practices and safety. Students completing the program will also receive industry recognized safety certification.

    By hosting training at EMCC in Bangor, WCCC in Calais, and NMCC in Presque Isle, the program will benefit from established infrastructure in three of the most heavily harvested regions of Maine. Each of the three colleges has vast experience in workforce training and well-established trade and technical programs that will further support development of the new program. The program is also a natural enhancement to existing community college programs in Diesel Hydraulics, Heavy Equipment and Commercial Driving.

    As the economy has started to improve and demand for forest products has increased, it has become clear to the PLC that there is a desperate need for trained equipment operators for mechanized forest harvesting, not only within its membership, but throughout the state.

    The existing wood harvesting contractors in Maine are anxious to hire mechanized equipment operators who can harvest and process timber efficiently and safely to fulfill the increased demand. This need extends to small, medium and large contractors throughout the State of Maine as they increase productivity and continue to invest in highly technical equipment to meet the ever changing industry standards for forest harvesting.

    To read another story about Put ME to Work please go HERE.

  • Hillary energizes supporters with grass roots politics and plans to help incomes grow in Portland, Maine

    Only candidate talking about mental health and drug abuse crisis

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    “We can raise incomes again — because that is the single most important issue we face. People have to feel that their work has been rewarded. Prosperity has to be broadly shared,” said Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential race during a campaign town-hall style event in Portland, Maine.

    The King Middle School event of 400 supporters had an overflow of participants who watched on monitors in an adjoining room. Those who had stood in line by 2pm, for the 4pm event, sat comfortably in a semicircle surrounding Clinton as she outlined her comprehensive agenda — mainly focused on incomes and job growth for the middle class and low-income earners.

    She said the way in which to achieve that growth is with Democrats, “Our country does better, our economy does better, when there is a Democrat in the White House ... They [Republicans] want to return to the failed politics of trickle-down economics. They want to make it easier for the super-rich, and corporations to have their way. That didn’t work for America before.”

    Former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama had to fix huge economic and government structural problems they inherited.

    She said that as First Lady she witnessed how her husband dealt with an exploding national debt and deficit, “After eight years we had 23 million new jobs. Everyone’s income went up … that’s how it should be. We are supposed to be building prosperity for all not just for a few.”

    Former President G. W. Bush gave big tax cuts for the wealthy and waged two wars that were not paid for by Congress. When the Great Recession hit, Obama saved America from a depression, as the country “was loosing 800,000 jobs per month. I don’t think President Obama gets the credit he deserves for keeping us from falling even further,” said Clinton. “The recovery is proceeding, but we haven’t finished what we need to do.”

    To stimulate the economy Clinton intends to:

    “Create millions of clean-energy jobs and millions of new businesses and companies to help combat climate change … By the end of my first term, we will have installed half a billion more solar panels. By the end of my second term, I want us to have enough clean energy to power every single home in America.”

    The model for this clean-energy economic growth is under way in Iowa, where 30 percent of the state’s energy is produced from wind power. Maine was on the way to be an energy exporter under the Baldacci administration. Those plans have stalled with Gov. Paul LePage but can easily be reenergized, for the groundwork has been done.

    “I’m very impressed with her economic message: The focus on renewable, clean-energy jobs and being able to become energy independent,” said former Governor John Baldacci. “She talked about how Tom Vilsack [United States Secretary of Agriculture] in Iowa helped create clean-energy jobs. It’s not just about the wind power generated. It’s about building the turbine parts and components — about creating industry. That’s exactly what we were trying to do — to make Maine a center of production. Not just to erect windmills — to manufacture them here. The more Maine could become a center of that excellence, for the parts and knowledge, the more our manufacturing would become sought after around the country and world. The goal was to create industries and work towards energy independence. That’s what Tom Vilsack has done in Iowa. I’d like to see us do it here.”

    Hillary Clinton being welcomed by Mainers in Portland with Gov. John Baldacci. Photo R. du Houx

    Clinton’s economic policies promote fairness and equality. They would also:

    • Raise the minimum wage. “It’s not possible for a family to live on what someone makes on a minimum wage,” she said.
    • Close various loopholes that the financial service sectors use that only benefit those institutions.
    • Make sure equal pay “equals equal work,” she said to a standing ovation.
    • Give incentives to business models that are more inclusive with their workforce like what happened with Market Basket. She referred to a 2014 story about how people stood up to a corporation in order to save the community-based food supermarket, and won.
    • Strengthen collective bargaining. “Unions helped to build the middle class in America. You can chart declining incomes with the decline of organized labor,” she said.

    “Her message is very strong. She’s a fighter. She’s going to fight for working families. She’s going to measure their success by the increase in revenues for working families not by the rise in pay for CEOs and hedge fund managers,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    “She understands better than any of the other candidates how to build this nation up. You don’t build it from the top down, but you build it from the bottom up. You empower people with a higher minimum wage, educational opportunities, and quality affordable health care for all citizens, while making sure we protect Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare. She’s going to strengthen families, which strengthens communities and their states. She’ll strengthen the nation from the ground up. That’s how you do it."

    Education—

    Her mother’s experience of being abandoned by her parents and sent off to live with relatives who didn’t want her, while she still managed to graduate high school, working as a housekeeper, has inspired Clinton throughout her life to champion the needs of children.

    With 80 percent of the human brain developed before the age of three, research has shown the importance of early childhood education.

    Hillary wants to ensure that very child gets universal pre-kindergarten and early childhood education. She related a story about how, as a grandmother, every little thing your grandchild achieves seems amazing and something to celebrate. But Clinton worries, “What kind of country will be waiting for her? Every child should be given the opportunity to live up to his or her God-given potential.”

    Clinton plans start apprentice programs based on a model already underway in Germany. “We would offer a tax credit to companies that offer apprenticeship programs … We need to rebuild opportunity ladders in America,” she said.

    Another equally important education issue she would tackle is student college debt, which is more than all of America’s credit-card debt. “Too many are shut out of college because of the cost. Or when they get out they can’t pay their debt. I want to refinance student debt — to lower the cost,” she said.

    Healthcare and public safety issues—

     She will work to make the Affordable Care Act stronger.

    Clinton stressed she wants to do something about how we handle long-term care in America. Most people want to be able to take care of their loved ones in the home but can’t afford to do so. “It’s a pressing and growing problem,” said Hillary.

    During the campaign, she has heard more about mental health issues and how too often they are connected to substance-abuse problems. In 2013 there were more overdose deaths in the United States than people who died in car accidents.

    “I think it’s one of the most important health issues we face … We are supposed to be treating mental health the same as physical health. But we aren’t … it’s not right,” she emphasized. “All too often mental health issues lead directly to substance abuse … I did not think I’d be talking about substance abuse in my presidential campaign until I started campaigning. Everywhere I go, people ask me, ‘What are you going to do about the heroin epidemic?’”

    Clinton said she would provide more support and resources to deal with heroin and opioid addiction, including outfitting law enforcement officers with the anti-overdose drug Narcan.

    She referenced a packed town hall of 700 people that she'd held specifically focused on the substance abuse crisis that is happening across America. It was the issue residents in New Hampshire wanted to hear about the most.

    “She’s listening to what people are saying. She’s the only candidate talking about the lack of mental health, and problems with substance and drug abuse. She’s connected at the grass-roots level,” said Baldacci.

    “Ever since she was First Lady and introduced health-care reform, she proved to me and the country that she was in it for the people. She proposed legislation for the country, and that to me showed tremendous courage as a First Lady. She can foresee problems of the country like she did with health-care reform 30 years ago, which shows she can be ahead with policies for the future,” said Joanna Gilbert of Brunswick. “I owe it to her to volunteer.”

    Recently, Republicans in Congress have stated they will not fund Planned Parenthood, an organization that helps with women’s health issues like cancer screenings, as well as family planning.

    “I will defend civil rights, human rights … starting with a women’s right to choose. The fact that Republicans have threatened to shut down the U.S. government over this issue sends a message to the world that we can’t govern ourselves,” said Clinton, while stating the fact that the federal government does not fund abortions.

    With a strong, resounding voice, she finished listing the other issues she would defend, like marriage equality and voting rights. “Every 18-year-old should be automatically enrolled to vote.”

    She made it crystal clear she would fight against "Citizen’s United," which has turned elections into fundraising campaigns. “Even if I have to put forward a constitutional amendment.”

    She also wants to put an end to “an era of mass incarceration.”

    Concerning the rights of Americans, the next president will most likely be tasked with the appointment of U.S. Supreme Court justices. “The next president may get three or four justices, who I hope will care more about a citizen’s right to vote than a millionaire’s right to buy an election,” said Clinton.

    International experience no other candidate has—

    Clinton has been instrumental with her diplomacy as secretary of state. “There’s no substitute for diplomacy,” she said.

    One example was when Clinton had to bring together a coalition of nations to put together the sanctions against Iran. She convinced Russia, China and others not to buy Iranian oil, to ensure the sanctions worked.

    “When she was working to develop the sanctions against Iran, she had to go and meet and work with old enemies of America: Russia and China. She’s been building coalitions on an international level. She’s done work as a U.S. senator from New York, developing policies that impact New York and the country, working with Republicans, Independents and Democrats. She’s a coalition builder,” said Baldacci. “That’s how you accomplish goals in D.C. She knows what she is doing; she’s been a tough negotiator around the world. I couldn’t think of a better person to become president. She’s the best candidate in the field.”

    Clinton said she’s determined to build a better world for her granddaughter. “You should not have to be the granddaughter of a former president to achieve your hopes and dreams.”

    The Clinton campaign’s low-profile events continue to give her an opportunity to connect with her supporters better, so she can really listen to their concerns, which have become major components to her platform. It is, in many ways, a return to grass-roots politics and was refreshing and energizing for those who came.

    “It wasn’t just a stump speech,” said Maine Sen. Stanley Gerzofsky. “She’s been listening. She knows 'It Takes a Village,'” referencing the book Mrs. Clinton wrote about how change happens from the grass roots by strengthening families and communities.

  • Maine Democratic Party brings local elected officials together to build stronger communities statewide

    Senate Leader Justin Alfond convened a panel entitled: Ensuring Children Don’t Go Hungry to discuss resources for combating food insecurity. Issues of where Maine could grow jobs-like in the energy sector- also had panel discussions, and trainings took place. 

    By Ramona du Houx

    On September 19th the Maine Democratic Party (MDP) hosted its first-ever Municipal Leaders Conference at the Buker Community Center in Augusta. The day-long conference brought together Democratic local, town and county officials and state lawmakers for a series of trainings, workshops and panel discussions. 

    “Our conference was a great way to connect local municipal leaders from across the state,” said MDP Chairman Phil Bartlett. “Our Party is dedicated to supporting Democrats at every level of government and we believe this training offers new resources and tools for our elected officials. Our work today will help organize and train the next wave of Democratic leaders and help us build strong and vibrant communities statewide.”

    Local leaders were joined by Democratic Party leaders, experts and educators to discuss the unique opportunities and challenges Maine municipal leaders face within their districts.

    Educational presentations ranged from revitalizing town centers and Main Streets to working together for stronger schools and communities. Democratic Senate Leader Justin Alfond convened a panel entitled: Ensuring Children Don’t Go Hungry to discuss resources for combating food insecurity and Rob Ellis of Revision Energy presented at the ‘Energy Efficiency and Sustainability’ panel on ways that towns can integrate alternative energy resources.

    "As a Lewiston City Council member, I often hear from concerned parents about the need for stronger public schools. It was great to attend a workshop on how school committees and council members can work together to achieve that goal," said Kristen Cloutier, who represents Ward 5 on the Lewiston City Council. "Overall, this conference was a great way to bring municipal officials together to address the important issues impacting our communities."

    MDP Chairman Bartlett convened a panel discussion called: Conversation with the Stakeholders, about the importance of championing progressive values on the local level. Participants included Bangor City Councilor Ben Sprague, Maeghan Maloney, District Attorney of Kennebec and Somerset Counties, and State Rep. Matt Moonen of Portland.

    Bartlett served in the Maine State Senate and brought his valuable experiences to the discussion.

    Nearly 50 elected officials and speakers participated in the MDP’s first-ever Municipal Leaders Conference, which was free and open to all Democratic municipal leaders in Maine.

  • Bruce Poliquin’s political grandstanding has cost Maine jobs to overseas competitors

    Poliquin the only member of Maine’s Delegation to Oppose Reauthorization of Ex-Im Bank

    By Ramona du Houx

    General Electric’s (GE) decision to send 500 U.S. jobs overseas, including 80 jobs in Maine, because of the Republican Congress’ failure to reauthorize the Ex-Im bank hurts Maine's and the entire US economy. 

    “In a competitive world, we are left with no choice but to invest in non-U.S. manufacturing and move production to countries that support high-tech exporters,” said Tim Rice, GE’s vice chairman, in a statement.

    Republican Bruce Poliquin, the only member of Maine’s delegation to actively oppose reauthorization of the Ex-Im bank, joined House Republicans in July to block consideration of a bill to allow the Ex-Im Bank to operate.

    Today’s bad news is a direct result of House Republicans putting politics before American workers,” said MDP Chairman Phil Bartlett. “Bruce Poliquin’s political grandstanding has chased good business overseas and compromised the employment of 80 workers in Maine. His endless attacks on the Ex-Im bank and the Maine jobs it supports has to stop for the good of Maine workers and our economy.”

    Congressman Poliquin has promoted his vehement opposition to the Ex-Im bank, posting videos and releases of his attacks against the Ex-Im bank, going as far to say the bank was ‘picking winners and losers.’ Poliquin’s opposition is in contrast to the Maine delegation, his constituents and the Maine workers who support the bank and the $266 million in export sales from Maine, including $51 million to five businesses in the second District.

    "How could he possibly say that, 'he didn’t think there were people in Maine who support the Ex-Im Bank?' I know he spent most of his adult life in New York, but at least attempt to know something about the district. How can you claim to be a representative of the 2nd district and not know anything about how one of your biggest employers operates? It can’t just be ignorance. Was being against the EX-IM Bank a condition of the pledge he made to National Republicans in order to get the obscene amount of cash he’s already received? The people of this district deserve answers!” said Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci, who is running against Emily Cain in a Democratic primary. The winner will go up against Poliquin in next year's election.

    Today, we learned that his actions have put 80 good-paying jobs at General Electric at risk, as well as hundreds of millions in export sales from Maine, including $52 million to five businesses in the second district,” said Emily Cain, who has consistently supported the Ex-Im Bank. “Congressman Poliquin’s actions are shameful because they have devastating consequences for the people he is supposed to fight for. This rejection of the Ex-Im Bank is just another example of Bruce Poliquin being out of step with Maine values and yet again putting his political ideology ahead of the lives and jobs of hardworking Mainers.”

    Ex-Im Bank provides millions of exporting value For Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Between 2007 and 2015 the total export value for ME's 2nd CD region was $51,236,816. In Maine, the Ex-Im Bank has supported at least $51 million in total exports between 2007 and 2015. [Export-Import Bank of the United States, accessed 5/28/15]

    In Maine small businesses accounted for 100 percent oall EX-IM supported exports worth $5.3 million during FY 2014. 

    Earlier this summer, the plant manager of the General Electric Power and Water Plant in Bangor called on Bruce Poliquin to quit playing politics with Maine jobs, businesses’ and asked the Congressman to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, because it is is “good for Maine, good for our economy and good for our country.”

    “U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin recently said he didn’t think there were people in Maine who support the Ex-Im Bank; if that were the case, he must not be listening very closely because we have 425 employees here at the Bangor facility alone, in addition to the additional 1,700 workers who rely on the Ex-Im Bank for their work in the state of Maine,” said the GE manager.

    During the Baldacci administration exports skyroketed because of his policies and businesses grew. Many of them used the Ex-Im bank to help them get their products overseas like  Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, Inc whose exports comprised 55 percent of their total sales in 2013.

    This four-generation family business has been growing since it started in 1956 by a husband and wife team. In 1981 they started mail-order shipments of live lobster and it grew to include steamer clams, mussels, lobster meat and crabmeat, Maine scallops and shrimp. This part of the business has grown into a year-round operation including online sales. The company expanded in 2001 with the acquisition of a tidal holding pound and tank room facility. As a wholesaler and retailer, exports now comprise 55 percent of total sales in 2013.” [EX-IM Bank of the United States, accessed 5/28/15]

  • Speaker Eves: “Maine’s Comeback Story Depends on Good Jobs, Strong Wages”


    Op-Ed:

    By Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick                     

    Good jobs and strong wages.

    These were the priorities of the past year for Democrats and many Republicans in the Legislature. Maine’s comeback story will be written by our growing middle class, our vibrant entrepreneurs and those who are innovating our traditional industries.  

    I’m proud to report to you that lawmakers made good progress for working people in our state over the past year.  Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled members of the Legislature came together to put more money in the pockets of Maine families and to invest in our economic future.

    We passed a middle class tax cut -- More than 570,000 Maine families will see a lower tax bill next year.

    We doubled property tax relief -- for ALL Maine families, making it easier for seniors to keep their homes and for young families to realize the American dream.

    And we invested in our workers, our students and our children -- the VERY keys to our economic success.

    Maine continues to rank among the worst in the nation for job growth. Our wages lag the nation and New England.

    Lawmakers set out to help foster economic growth by investing in our workers and students and growing industries.  We conducted a bipartisan jobs tour across the state from York to Aroostook.

    The loggers in Rumford, the businesses and students in Presque Isle, the farmers in central Maine and the machinists in North Berwick all were telling us the same thing: Investing in our workforce is the best investment in our economic future.

    We listened, and we learned and we led.

    We created the Put ME to Work program, which helps workers get the skills and training they need for the jobs of the future.

    Investments such as these already have led to workers getting better paying jobs. Students from community college machinist programs, from York to Presque Isle, are graduating with jobs lined up at manufacturing companies paying more than $17 dollars per hour. These programs have a near 100 percent job placement rate.

    We also increased funding for our local public schools and early education programs, while working to make college more affordable.

    These are the steps that will help keep our young people here and attract new Mainers to our state. Economic progress is made when everyone has a fair shot at a good education.

    We made great strides for workers and students in our state. We did it by working with our colleagues across the aisle. This is the tradition of great Maine leaders and the way governing should be in our state.

    If we want to grow good jobs and strong wages in our state, we need to work together to invest in our people.  Maine’s comeback story depends on it.

  • Obama's Failure to Fail and GOP Candidates

    What did the men who would be president talk about during last week’s prime-time Republican debate? Well, there were 19 references to God, while the economy rated only 10 mentions. Republicans in Congress have voted dozens of times to repeal all or part of Obamacare, but the candidates only named President Obama’s signature policy nine times over the course of two hours. And energy, another erstwhile G.O.P. favorite, came up only four times.

    Strange, isn’t it? The shared premise of everyone on the Republican side is that the Obama years have been a time of policy disaster on every front. Yet the candidates on that stage had almost nothing to say about any of the supposed disaster areas.

    And there was a good reason they seemed so tongue-tied: Out there in the real world, none of the disasters their party predicted have actually come to pass. President Obama just keeps failing to fail. And that’s a big problem for the G.O.P. — even bigger than Donald Trump.

    Start with health reform. Talk to right-wingers, and they will inevitably assert that it has been a disaster. But ask exactly what form this disaster has taken, and at best you get unverified anecdotes about rate hikes and declining quality.

    Meanwhile, actual numbers show that the Affordable Care Act has sharply reduced the number of uninsured Americans — especially in blue states that have been willing to expand Medicaid — while costing substantially less than expected. The newly insured are, by and large, pleased with their coverage, and the law has clearly improved access to care.

    Needless to say, right-wing think tanks are still cranking out “studies” purporting to show that health reform is a failure. But it’s a losing game, and judging from last week’s debate Republican politicians know it.

    But what about side effects? Obamacare was supposed to be a job-killer — in fact, when Marco Rubio was asked how he would boost the economy, pretty much all he had to suggest was repealing health and financial reforms. But in the year and a half since Obamacare went fully into effect, the U.S. economy has added an average of 237,000 private-sector jobs per month. That’s pretty good. In fact, it’s better than anything we’ve seen since the 1990s.

    Which brings us to the economy.

    There was remarkably little economic discussion at the debate, although Jeb Bush is still boasting about his record in Florida — that is, his experience in presiding over a gigantic housing bubble, and providentially leaving office before the bubble burst. Why didn’t the other candidates say more? Probably because at this point the Obama economy doesn’t look too bad. Put it this way: if you compare unemployment rates over the course of the Obama administration with unemployment rates under Reagan, Mr. Obama ends up looking better – unemployment was higher when he took office, and it’s now lower than it was at this point under Reagan.

    O.K., there are many reasons to qualify that assessment, notably the fact that measured unemployment is low in part because of a decline in the percentage of Americans in the labor force. Still, the Obama economy has utterly failed to deliver the disasters — hyperinflation! a plunging dollar! fiscal crisis! — that just about everyone on the right predicted. And this has evidently left the Republican presidential field with nothing much to say.

    One last point: traditionally, Republicans love to talk about how liberals with their environmentalism and war on coal are standing in the way of America’s energy future. But there was only a bit of that last week — perhaps because domestic oil production has soared and oil imports have plunged since Mr. Obama took office.

    What’s the common theme linking all the disasters that Republicans predicted, but which failed to materialize? If I had to summarize the G.O.P.’s attitude on domestic policy, it would be that no good deed goes unpunished. Try to help the unfortunate, support the economy in hard times, or limit pollution, and you will face the wrath of the invisible hand. The only way to thrive, the right insists, is to be nice to the rich and cruel to the poor, while letting corporations do as they please.

    According to this worldview, a leader like President Obama who raises taxes on the 1 percent while subsidizing health care for lower-income families, who provides stimulus in a recession, who regulates banks and expands environmental protection, will surely preside over disaster in every direction.

    But he hasn’t. I’m not saying that America is in great shape, because it isn’t. Economic recovery has come too slowly, and is still incomplete; Obamacare isn’t the system anyone would have designed from scratch; and we’re nowhere close to doing enough on climate change. But we’re doing far better than any of those guys in Cleveland will ever admit.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Speaker's bipartisan $15 million senior housing bond heads to ballot

     

     Maine people will have an opportunity to vote on a $15 million housing bond to build affordable senior housing across the state. LePage missed his opportunity to veto it, as he had promised to do.

    The bond heads to the ballot this November because Gov. Paul LePage had a 10 day period afforded to him under the Maine Constitution where he could have vetoed the bill or signed it as law.

    “The bond will address a dire need for affordable senior housing across our state,” said House Speaker Eves, D-North Berwick, who sponsored the bipartisan proposal. “It will also help create good housing and construction jobs. It's a win for seniors and our economy.”

     Speaker Eves proposed the bond as part of his “Keep ME Home” plan to help seniors live independently in their homes and communities.   

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older people, 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. The state also has the oldest population and the 8th oldest housing stock in the nation.

    The bond measure was among the fifty-one bills passed by the Legislature and sent to the Governor on June 30. According to the constitution, the governor has 10 days, not including Sundays, to sign or veto a bill. If he does not take either of those actions, the bill becomes law if the Legislature has not finally adjourned. For these 51 bills, the window closed on Saturday. The Office of the Revisor will chapter them today.

    The governor incorrectly asserted that the bills will not become law, despite the clarity provided by the Maine Constitution, precedent and an opinion issued July 10th, by Attorney General Janet Mills. The governor’s argument is based on an illogical claim that the Legislature is finally adjourned, which would mean that the clock for the 10-day window has stopped.

    The Legislature’s first regular session remains under way, as evidenced by its plans to return Thursday to take up the remainder of its work, including vetoes issued in accordance with the Maine Constitution.

  • Maine citizens call on federal regulators to pass strong rules against payday debt trap

    Being on minimum wage has given loan sharks credit -

    By Ramona du Houx

    Activists from the Maine People's Alliance on  July 9, 2015 called on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to follow Maine's lead and pass rules to protect millions of Americans trapped in a cycle of debt by short-term, high-interest payday loans.

    In June, payday lender Ace Cash Express announced it's withdrawl from Maine closing its two stores. The payday lender recently reached a $10 million settlement with the CFPB after accusations that it harassed borrowers. A federal class-action lawsuit against the company is pending in Delaware.

    "Every year, millions of Americans turn to pay day lenders in the hopes of finding short-term financial relief only to find themselves mired in a cycle of debt because of predatory lending practices," said Andrew Francis, for the Maine People's Alliance. "We aren't sad to see this predatory lender close up shop. Our communities are better off when folks can keep their money in Maine, with responsible, local lenders - instead of getting trapped in a cycle of indebtedness to Wall Street."

    Maine is one of 24 states that have imposed regulation on payday lenders, capping the interest rate on short-term loans. Last week a bill sponsored by Rep. Janice Cooper (D-Yarmouth), "LD 1092: An Act To Prevent Abusive Debt Collection Practices," became law after the legislature overrode a veto from Governor LePage. The bill requires written debt settlement agreements and prohibits debt collectors from abusing the court system to collect on illegitimate debts. Despite Maine's leadership on this issue, payday lenders have sought to add provisions to the federal rulemaking process that would preempt and undermine existing state regulation.

    Being on minimum wage has given Payday loan sharks credit -

    Payday lenders prey upon low-income workers by offering short-term, high-interest loans marketed as a quick financial fix that in reality create a long-term debt trap. A worker earning minimum wage, full-time pay, only makes a little over $15,000. It's a poverty wage that has forced millions to seek out loans that have huge interest rates, as banks refuse to give the low wage earners any credit. As a result Payday lenders have become the new loan sharks taking advantage of the minimum wage earner.

    People with health issues and other unpredictable situations where they have found they need money to survive have fallen into the Payday loan trap.

    "I needed to find some way to cover my electric bill before my next paycheck came in or else I would have been shut off. I couldn't let that happen and didn't really have any other choice but to take out a $90 loan from a payday lender in Lewiston," saidLynnea Hawkins, who lives in Auburn, the promise of short-term financial help soon turned into a greater financial burden as interest began to compound. "I had to give them access to my checking account and ended up paying back close to $140. I'm fortunate that I was able to pay that back. I have many friends and neighbors who have to take out a loan every week to pay for rent and other necessities. It's a complete and total racket. It should have been regulated a long time ago."

    Payday lenders often charge an annual percentage rate (APR) of 300 percent or higher for a typical payday loan and make these loans with no regard to an individual's ability to repay them, instead relying on direct access to an individuals' bank account for repayment. Each year, payday lenders rake in more than $10 billion in fees by trapping an estimated 12 million consumers in a cycle of debt.

    The MPA protest was part of a nation-wide day of action calling for strong rules against predatory lenders. In March, the CFPB released an outline of a proposed rule on small-dollar lending and is expected to release a full proposal this fall. Demonstrators called on the CFPB to release a strong rule that would cover all predatory loans including traditional payday loans, car title loans, installment payday loans and online loans.

    "It's time for the CFPB to pass strong, broad rules that protect all Americans from unscrupulous predatory lenders," said Francis. "The last thing we need is for the payday industry to weaken these proposed rules and preempt Maine's work on this issue. Ace Cash Express is closing its two stores and leaving Maine, the last thing we need is for them to come back in a year and open ten new storefronts."