Each year, the Maine Forest Products Council asks its members to select outstanding individuals from the forest products community who excel in their professions. (See previous winners). Below you’ll find the criteria and nomination form for:
Please take the time to consider those people in the forest products community who have done an exemplary job in these areas and deserve recognition for their positive impact on our industry. It is an important opportunity for us to look within our industry and provide recognition and public attention where it is due. The recipients of the awards will be honored at the Maine Forest Products Council 2017 Annual meeting awards banquet on September 17 at Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg.
Email the nomination form to Sue McCarthy or mail to MFPC, 535 Civic Center Drive, Augusta ME 04330.
- LD 1655 An Act To Update References to the United States Internal Revenue Code of 1986 Contained in the Maine Revised Statutes (tax conformity).The Taxation Committee was divided on State conformity with the recent federal tax changes. Despite the current stalemate, we think there are still areas of agreement that could be achieved between parties in a special session but it is unlikely there will be compromise on everything. For example conforming State estate tax thresholds with the federal level remains a large policy debate. Conforming to bonus depreciation, or substituting it with the Maine Capital Investment Credit, will be a big help to businesses. Without action the personal exemption is maintained in Maine, which should offset concerns about an overall rate increase to individuals. Without conformity, businesses will be burdened with having to keep “two sets of books” for federal and state purposes, and Maine’s tax system will become much more complicated and difficult to administer. This is not something that can be put off until next year.
LD 1862 An Act To Establish Municipal Cost Components for Unorganized Territory Services To Be Rendered in Fiscal Year 2018-19 (UT budget).
- LD 1844 An Act To Provide the State the Right of First Refusal for the Purchase of Certain Land on Which a Subsidy Has Been Paid. Read MFPC floor sheet.
- LD 1744 An Act To Create the Hire American Tax Credit for Businesses That Hire Residents of the United States. Read MFPC floor sheet.
- LD 1654 An Act To Protect Economic Competitiveness in Maine by Extending the End Date for Pine Tree Development Zone Benefits. The Pine Tree Zone is an important business incentive that should not be allowed to expire this year. Without the Pine Tree Zone program, the State of Maine will lack a tool that is frequently used to attract expanding businesses to the State, and will fall behind other states that have robust business attraction incentives at the state level.
After a cooling-off period, legislative leaders will discuss what comes next. It’s not anticipated a special session will be called until after the June 12 primary. The state Republican convention is going on now and the Democratic convention is May 18-20, followed by Memorial Day weekend (May 26-28). Ranked choice voting also may delay the primary vote count.
When legislators do return for a special session, it remains unclear what exactly they’re going to do. Obviously, everything is carried over and still alive, but leadership will be negotiating what they will actually consider, ranging from everything to just select matters.
One thing that might shorten a special session is that since the Legislature adjourned sine die, candidates can solicit campaign funds, but when the special session begins, the restriction on fundraising will be reinstated. The governor will have 10 days to veto any bills approved in the special session and legislators must reconvene to deal for another veto day. It’s possible a special session might not end until early July.
So we’re definitely not done yet, we still have some significant bills pending and we need your help to see this session through. When we know when the Legislature will return, we will notify you. So be on the lookout for legislative alerts because your influence can help. Our members can really make a difference at the Legislature.
There’s a lot to talk about today, including the release Thursday of the new report on the Tree Growth Tax Program, the governor’s State of the State address Tuesday, and an update on the progress of our industry’s roadmap.
But the big news is Verso’s announcement to start up its idled machine — employing 120 workers — and produce container board. This is great news and opens up markets for softwood and sawmill residuals. It’s also exciting to learn they are diversifying their production into container board products. Also exciting is the announcement by two cross laminated timber (CLT) firms this week of their intentions to build facilities in Maine. We’re making great progress in building a stronger forest economy.
I served on the committee that reviewed the Tree Growth Program and our report included answers to all the questions that the Taxation Committee gave us. Our recommendations include an understanding that this program has many pieces to it and even now there are things that assessors don’t know about the program. For example, it’s not universally known that the Maine Forest Service can provide assistance in interpreting Tree Growth management plans.
So one of our recommendations is building a best management practices manual for the program. We’re recommending that the Maine Revenue Service, Maine Forest Service, the landowner community and the Maine Municipal Association get together and develop this manual. It can be handed out to anybody involved in the program and used as a reference that can be built upon to help clarify all the rules, responsibilities and penalties. We see that as a very important outcome of the group getting together.
The group noted that the Tree Growth program is built around the the involvement of licensed professional foresters. In cases where a forester may approve a management plan that is not in compliance with the Tree Growth requirements, we think this is an issue for the professional licensing board. We seek clarification from the Attorney General’s office on who has standing in bringing a complaint to the Licensing board. Rene Noel from the Association of Consulting Foresters helped guide our discussion of this issue. The governor’s bill (LD 1599) suggested that the MFS have greater authority in dealing with Tree Growth landowner compliance, but after much discussion the group believed the current system, if uniformly administered, can identify and take action with landowners not committed to the program.
Another important factor in limiting recommended changes in the Tree Growth program is that significant changes were implemented in 2012 in an agreement with the MMA, MFPC, Maine Farm Bureau and SWOAM (now Maine Woodland Owners). These changes reflect actions taken to strengthen the program and will require more time to take effect in the annual cycling of tree growth re-certifications. More details are found in the report.
It was a good effort and we appreciate the efforts of Steve Shaler, director of UMaine’s School of Forest Resources, who chaired the committee, with assistance from Dr. Adam Daigneault, assistant professor of Forest, Conservation, and Recreation Policy.
I listened to the governor’s State of the State address Tuesday and he emphasized the property tax dollars that he said are lost with the increasing enrollment of land into land trusts. I understand his concern about conserved land, but I just don’t want people confused. There are many acres of large conservation easements in the north country. MFPC members involved in these opportunities are paying land taxes on these enrolled programs. These working forest easements reflect the balance of compensation for public value (i.e. development rights and in some cases access right) and maintaining the ongoing forest operations that produce wood and Maine jobs.
In another part of the governor’s speech, he discussed his intention to submit a Commercialization Bond package designed to incentivize business investment. We know this type of incentive is meaningful. For example, the recent allocation of bond money administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) yielded projects very important to the forest industry, including the Verso expansion and proposed CLT plant by SmartLam. So we know a demand exists for these programs.
It’s important that this potential funding be based on a well-evaluated plans, but this could provide a really important tool to attract investment to Maine to both our existing businesses and to other businesses that might be thinking about relocating to Maine. The “roadmap” process, officially called the Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative (MFEGI), is progressing well. This fall, thanks to federal support, we’ll release a report that identifies the global forest products markets in which Maine is most competitive, along with the specific actions necessary to create a more diverse forest economy while increasing our economic output. In the meantime, here are the projects underway:
- A global market analysis (target release: June 2018) to identify the current and emerging global forest products markets where Maine is likely to be most competitive. This analysis is being conducted by Indufor, a leading global forest consultant, and includes competitive benchmarking to compare Maine to other forest industry states, provinces and countries.
- A wood supply analysis is being conducted by the James W. Sewall Co., to model what species are available across the state so we can match Maine’s forest resources to the market opportunities.
- A transportation analysis to determine where infrastructure improvements are necessary in response to anticipated changes in how wood moves across our state
- Working with Innovative Natural Resource Solutions to understanding the costs and benefits of modern wood energy markets for low value wood and sawmill residuals, including Combined Heat and Power (CHP) facilities.
- Supporting the redevelopment and reutilization of idle pulp and paper mill sites, by pursuing new market opportunities, local economic development, and community goals.
- Working with Maine forest economy communities to amplify and accelerate local and regional efforts around economic diversification.
I already find myself fielding more and more calls from investors interested in the State of Maine and they’re coming from all across the country. People really are looking at our forests but they’re also comparing it to other parts of the nation and the world.
By working with communities, the industry and the university, we’re going to have some great ideas about the future forest economy. We encourage all stakeholders, including current state officials and candidates, to stay in touch with us as we go through this process.
Next week may be legislators’ last chance to relax in a session where leadership has set a blistering pace since Jan. 3. Monday is Presidents Day and it’s also school holiday week, so there’s very little on the legislative calendar. But when legislators get back to business Feb. 26, they’ll be facing a deadline that will be tough to meet. Leadership has directed committees to get all bills reported out of committee the second week in March.
The intention is that unless a bill is truly an emergency and/or has consensus and is worthy of consideration by the Legislature, then let it go. This will then allow the Legislature to focus on the big items on the agenda, including ranked choice voting; marijuana regulations; whether Maine should stay coupled to the federal tax code in light of the recent changes, and – the biggest of all – how to fund the Medicaid expansion that was approved by voters last November.
Legislators face a pretty short turnaround time – probably just three to four weeks – to sort those issues out in order to make their statutory adjournment April 18.
Our big issues, including Tree Growth Tax, are still pending. The hearing on the Tree Growth report in Taxation Thursday (see Executive Director Patrick Strauch’s column) started the process.
We’ve had some success with the bills that have been worked so far. For example, LD 1759 An Act To Rename the Coast of Maine Wildlife Management Area was unanimously voted OTP in the IFW Committee and approved in the House and Senate,
We’re engaged in a dialogue and a conversation with the ACF Committee and other stakeholders about LD 1747 Resolve, To Establish a Task Force To Examine Agricultural Issues. There’s an interest to come up with a plan to promote the blueberry industry, similar to what was done by the maple syrup task force a few years ago, but it may morph into a Maine-made labeling kind of conversation. The charge and duties of the task force, as well as its membership are being discussed by the committee right now and has yet to be voted out of committee.
There are several bills pending in the EUT Committee regarding energy issues, biomass and alternative energy sources and we don’t have a clear sense of the committee’s direction as of yet. These complex bill decisions are typically saved for consideration last as they tend to be very involved and technical, but we anticipate that they will be hammered out in the next three weeks or so.
LD 897 An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Encourage Efficient Biomass Thermal and Power Projects in Maine is still tabled in Appropriations, along with every other bond proposal. The revenue projections are out for January and were up, which is great. But when talking to leadership there’s no real consensus or clear understanding if there will even be a bond package, because they have to fund the Medicaid expansion and the governor has made a pledge of no new taxes and no borrowing from rainy day. Our concern is that the Appropriations Committee will sweep balances in accounts in an attempt to pay for the Medicaid expansion legislation that needs to be funded as well as whatever surplus we have in the current biennial budget (if we have one). Voters passed the Medicaid expansion with a pretty good margin. Legislators don’t want to go home and run for election taking a position that is contrary to what the voters expressed at the ballot box last November. So that’s going to be the top priority – funding that Medicaid expansion — even before bonds.
One important factor in how things go, of course, is the governor, who has made it very clear he’s not going to take a lame duck approach in his final year and intends to work diligently right up to the time a new governor is sworn in. Read BDN story on his State of the State address.
An example of that is his recent position on wind energy. He’s been a vocal critic of wind energy throughout his administration and has attempted to limit the ability for wind project expansion. On Jan. 24, Gov. LePage issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies from issuing permits “related to wind turbines” in western and coastal Maine, on coastal islands and along “significant avian migratory pathways.”
The moratorium would remain in place until a new Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission reports on wind power’s economic impact and recommends potential regulatory changes. The task force meetings wouldn’t be public, nor would the public be invited to participate. The Conservation Law Foundation filed a legal challenge on Jan. 30th.
On Jan. 29, he introduced LD 1810, An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Expedited Permitting for Wind Energy Development. It’s similar to a bill last session, having to do with visual impacts in the expedited area. Last session he was talking about taking the visual impact to infinity and beyond, but this year’s bill just proposes taking it from eight miles to 40 miles.
The bill has been referred to the EUT Committee in the House and is pending reference in the Senate. We will participate in the public hearing when one is scheduled.
Finally, the one question everyone is asking is if the Legislature will adjourn on time. They’ve got a huge agenda. Trying to find Medicaid expansion funding alone is going to be significant. Couple that with the federal tax implications and marijuana implementation and I’d be surprised if they adjourn on time.
But then again, most of them are running for office and they can’t solicit money from the lobby or their clients for contributions to their individual campaigns or political action committees until they’re out of session. Last session when they delayed their final sine die to August, it really cost them in their fundraising efforts.
So, as with so much at the Legislature, we will just have to wait and see … and then hang on!
Any legislator whose picture of Maine’s forest products hadn’t been updated since the Madison mill closed in May 2016 got a pleasant surprise at the Council’s Legislative Breakfast Jan. 29. In the past few years, Executive Director Patrick Strauch told them, roughly $600 million in capital investments have been made or announced in Maine’s forest products industry.
“We really feel like we’re at the beginning of a big upturn in the opportunities for the industry,” Strauch said. “We need to make sure we’ve got good, trained workers, but it’s an exciting time and we’re part of the new, green forest economy. Legislators are going to be important in helping us as we put together the strategy in the FOR/Maine master plan.”
The breakfast, held at the Senator Inn in Augusta, attracted about 55 members and more than 40 legislators, including Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, House Republican leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, and Jeffrey L. Timberlake (R-Androscoggin), assistant Senate Republican leader. Also attending were Sen. Russell Black, Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, D-Knox; Rep. Randy Hall, R-Wilton; Rep. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, and Rep. Bill Pluecker, I-Knox, of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee; Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, co-chair of Appropriations, and many other members of key committees for the industry.
Legislators heard reports from MFPC members on key sectors of the industry, starting with the Council’s president, Gordon Gamble of Wagner Forest Management, who unveiled our new special report entitled, Understanding public access to working forests.
“I think we can all agree that the privilege that we all enjoy with access to private land is pretty special and unique in the U.S.,” Gamble said. “However, we’ve realized there are a lot of misconceptions about this, which you see in letters to the editor or perhaps in public testimony. So we felt it was in our best interest to produce this report and give sort of the rest of the story on Maine’s great tradition.”
The update on Maine’s pulp and paper sector was delivered by Scott Beal of Woodland Pulp/St. Croix paper, and Jim Contino of Verso.
“We have been through a tough period and now, instead of looking over our shoulders in doubt, we’re excited to look ahead to the future,” Beal said, listing Woodland’s investments in Baileyville; ND Papers investments in the Rumford and Old Town, and SAPPI’s “investments from the front end of the mill – the wood-handling system – all the way to conversion of a machine from coated paper to making packaging. “
“The breakfast was good and the information you folks put together was real helpful,” Rep. Frances Head, R-Bethel, emailed MFPC. “The private land booklet was especially helpful to several constituents that I spoke with yesterday.”
Contino continued that positive theme, saying that “Verso has seven mills and the very best of them is right up the river in Jay, Maine.”
The Jay mill, which once focused on catalogue and magazine paper, has repositioned itself to specialty niches with “a lot better margins,” such as the liner of “the boxes that come on Amazon trucks,” and the paper used in food packaging and labels.
“It could be microwave popcorn bags, dogfood bags or wrappers that you get at McDonalds,” Contino said. “You see our labels when you go to grocery stores – they might be on Heinz ketchup or Campbell soup or anything that’s got color printing on it.”
Jason Brochu of Pleasant River Lumber delivered the update on spruce-fir lumber mills, and Jim Robbins Sr. of Robbins Lumber spoke about pine mills.
“In a little less than the last decade, we’ve seen the competitive climate for our mills improve,” Brochu said. “When the industry started to go down, we were forced as an industry to rely more on exported logs. Now we’re seeing the opposite happen. Our production has gained dramatically and we’re investing heavily in our mills — over $100 million in the last five or six years. So we’ve got a highly competitive spruce-fir sawmill industry in Maine right now and it’s growing rapidly.”
Robbins picked up that theme, saying, “Mills survive by modernizing and that’s true with any mill, whether paper mills or sawmills. If you don’t keep modernizing your mill, you aren’t going to be in business.”
In 2006 nationwide, 2.4 million houses were built in the U.S., but 400,000 in 2008. Sawmills across North America went out of business, Robbins said, but now housing has rebounded to 1.25 million.
“Our state is doing a great job managing our forests,” Robbins said. “So if you’re going to build anything, you want to build it out of wood, because it’s the most efficient, greenest material that we can build with. So please support community-based power projects and I also want to put in a word for FOR/Maine, which is going to help put our forest industry back on the map and make us greater than ever.”
Richard Wing of Wing and Son Logging in Standish and Ken Lamond of Family Forestry in Brewer provided the logging update. They agreed one serious problem facing the industry is a need for trained workers.
“It’s hard to find help and to keep good help,” Wing said. “We pay well and have health insurance and all that, but it’s hard to find young people who want to work in the woods.”
Another problem in southern Maine is increasing property taxes and real estate prices, he said, adding, “We’ve got to find some ways to help landowners with property taxes. They can’t grow wood fast enough to pay their taxes.”
Wing also wants to see the state’s district foresters focus more on outreach “because we’ve got a lot of people moving in to the state who have never seen a logging operation.”
“We have to educate people when they come by our jobs and say, ‘What are you doing? You’re cutting all the trees down!’ We’re not cutting all the trees down,” Wing said. “We’re selectively cutting. So we hope the state foresters educate people so they know that what we’re doing is the right way.”
“I thought today’s breakfast meeting went very well,” said Greg Foster, an MFPC Board member.” I believe every speaker delivered a concise well thought out message that ultimately covered all major components of Maine’s forest community. These messages were clear and very understandable. To me there was a common theme, that Maine’s forest industry is doing much better than several years ago, do not mess it up!”
Lamond concentrated on the need to improve Maine’s business environment, saying that’s important to the entire industry.
“We’ve been through ups and downs and recently we’ve seen real positive signs in investment and opportunity,” Lamond said. “In the Legislature, you’ll see proposals coming your way, rules and laws and all that. I would ask that you measure them by whether it’s good for business or not. That’s really the bottom line for us. We need a strong, positive business environment to survive and thrive.”
As the breakfast ended, Strauch thanked legislators for coming and urged them to contact the Council or its members to learn more about the forest products industry.
“I think what we wanted to demonstrate is our industry is really part of all the communities of Maine,” Strauch said. “No matter where you are there’s a logger or a manufacturer. We’re very interested in connecting with you and helping you see our industry and our people at work. We’re all trying to help make rural Maine a stronger place and help its residents. It’s not about the trees – we’ve got plenty of trees — it’s really about the people.”
Reprinted with MSA permission from the February 2018 issue of The Maine Snowmobiler
That old punchline from Marshall Dodge’s Burt & I routines almost never failed to get a laugh fifty years ago, but even today like all good comedy, it’s the hint of truth in it that makes it work.
On January 24, I attended the latest of the series of planning meetings for the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument in East Millinocket. I had avoided them until now, but the theme was winter use, so this one was necessary because it turns out that snowmobiling is the predominate use of the monument during the winter months. It hasn’t been without its challenges, but for the most part snowmobiling is working to the point that I would hazard a guess that it could even exceed the sluggish summer visitation. That is probably thanks to the dedication and work of the local clubs who completely understand the need to get south-north. The local snowmobile community was well-represented, and as usual had a firm grasp of what was happening on the ground. The rest of the crowd was locals, some outfitters and of course the usual suspects from the environmental community.
Following planning guidelines, we were split into seven small groups with an assignment to come up with lists of activities, benefits and roadblocks to achieving usage goals. The almost immediate comments were directed at the lack of facilities and lack of access in the wintertime. A lack of cabins for overnight trekkers and toilet facilities was noted.
By the design of the donors, snowmobile use is limited on the west side of the East Branch, which is too bad. As it turns out, snowmobiling is important to the trail system, and at the same time it is an important method of access to a variety of non-motorized use. Due to the location and absence of roads that were transferred to the feds, those who wish to engage in non-motorized activities in many areas of the monument are faced with trekking by foot up to 6-8 miles before they get to where they want to start. One older woman in our group kept talking about the importance of “quiet areas” and “dark skies,” but acknowledged that there was really no way to get to those “special” places.
Which brings us back to snowmobiles. Opening up more areas to snowmobiling would obviously increase non-motorized activities for other users. Heck, maybe some enterprising outfitters could even offer snowmobile rides into the back country like they do at Baxter State Park.
I thought I was quite clever suggesting that KWWNM could adopt the same snowmobile use policy as Acadia National Park. That is any road that is open to motorized traffic in the summer and is unplowed in the winter is open to snowmobiles. It works very well at Acadia and at KWWNM it would open up the Loop Road and significantly increase access to the areas people want to visit. When all the groups reported back at the end of the evening, I was pleased to learn that the six other groups had also come to the same conclusions. I guess that means I wasn’t so creative after all, but then again, great minds think alike.
The only thing holding this back is the ill-conceived deed restrictions put in place by the donors (which I think the Park Service could deal with), and the prostrations of the environmental groups, which if the truth be known, don’t really want people to enjoy the outdoors anyway.
So, that’s my story for this month. I may even go back to another planning session. In the meantime you can weigh in too. The planning process will be going on for several more months, and all are welcome to submit comments to the planning group. Their contact info can be found at https://www.nps.gov/kaww/getinvolved/planning.htm.
ORONO — The composition of hardwood forests in the northeastern United States is changing significantly. In the past 30 years in forestlands in four states, climate-associated changes have increased the abundance of American beech compared to three other hardwood species commonly associated with the regional forests, according to University of Maine-led research team.
The significant shift to forests dominated by American beech, Fagus grandifolia, in Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont is associated with higher temperatures and precipitation, according to Arun Bose and Aaron Weiskittel at UMaine, and Robert Wagner at Purdue University, the team that conducted the study — one of the first to examine broad-scale changes over a long period of time in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada.
The change from beech-maple-birch forests to more beech-dominated forestlands could have consequences for ecosystem structure and function, say the researchers. Beech is associated with a widespread bark disease and is known to limit natural regeneration of other species. In addition, the wood has less commercial value.
The significant increase in beech in the past three decades also has resulted in decreased incidence of sugar maple, red maple and birch. Factors in the changing forest composition include the ability of beech to shade out the other species.
“Our results emphasize the need for management strategies, such as higher intensity harvesting methods, vegetation control and limiting browsing pressure to reduce beech dominance,” according to the researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
The researchers used U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data, 1983–2014, for Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont to study the occurrence and abundance of American beech, sugar and red maple, and birch saplings. Their assessment included sapling encroachment into new areas, as well as the abundance of the American beech relative to the other three species.
They found the beech-dominated forests particularly evident in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Climate-associated changes in forest composition often include high mortality in sensitive species and disproportionate favoring of others that can better adapt to the new conditions, the researchers note. In the northeastern U.S., beech sapling presence and abundance has likely been driven by additional factors, including the long absence of wildfire and clear cutting, and species characteristics, such as shade tolerance.
Forest management needs to include large-scale harvesting and canopy opening to preclude beech-dominated forests from developing in even greater areas, according to the researchers.
In the first session of the 128th Legislature, chairs of the Taxation Committee requested that a review of the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law be conducted and asked an appointed panel to report back Feb. 1. The panel has met several times and on Jan. 3 offered the public an opportunity to offer perspectives at the State House in Augusta.
Presiding over the listening session was Stephen Shaler, director of the School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine, who chairs the review panel. Other members attending were Tom Abello, The Nature Conservancy; Kate Dufour, Maine Municipal Association Patrick Strauch, Maine Forest Products Council; Tom Doak, Maine Woodland Owners; Rene Noel, Association of Consulting Foresters, and Julie Ann Smith, Maine Farm Bureau. Also present for parts of the meeting were the chairs of the Taxation Committee, Sen. Dana Dow and Rep. Ryan Tipping.
Also testifying were landowner Chip Bessey of E.D. Bessey & Son and Clark Granger, Granger Family Farms.
“Chip talked about his concerns with some of the rates that had gone up and the discrepancies between the megaregions,” Strauch said. “That was a concern of one of the appraisers as well.”
I fully expect we’ll see an aggressive schedule and considerably faster pace in the second session of the 128th Legislature, which begins Jan. 3, than the slow-starting first session. I think we’ll start to see committees hold public hearings/work sessions on the carryover bills as early as the first week in January. They have only four months and they have quite a work load ahead of them.
There are a number of significant controversial issue, including some that MFPC is particularly interested in, like Tree Growth and biomass. In fact, a lot of the action for us this session will be in the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee because there are many bills relating to energy and utility issues, from hydropower to the Renewable Portfolio Standard. It’s too early to say which bills will be most important, because many are just titles right now, but I just know that energy is going to be huge. That committee already had a pretty sizeable workload before we even got the new bills.
Funding for LD 8, the bill to arm rangers, is still on the Appropriations table, and is likely to get caught up with a lot of other bills and state programs in THE top issue this session — how to fund the Medicaid expansion that voters just approved.
The language of the referendum was silent on the funding source because supporters didn’t want to create controversy and therefore lose votes. But now that it has passed and is supposed to take effect – enrollment starts in July – legislators have to come up with some significant money to fund it. We don’t know exactly how much because there are differing opinions between the Office of Fiscal Policy Review, which advises the Appropriations Committee, and the Department of Health and Human Services
There also are a lot of unanswered questions right now, such as how many people will enroll, how quickly they’ll enroll, what eligibility will look like, what the federal match will be and what the federal resources designated to the state will be.
The governor has said it can’t be funded with new taxes or the rainy day fund. I have to believe legislators aren’t going to raise taxes because they’re all running for reelection and no legislator wants to be on the side of supporting a tax increase before a re-election campaign.. So where would the Medicaid expansion funding come from? A concern for MFPC, along with other interest groups, is whether the Legislature might sweep money from other accounts and programs to come up with the funding. We’ll be keeping a sharp eye on this process.
Ranked choice voting is another tricky issue still hanging out there. Many people are frustrated with the citizen-initiated referendum process, especially after the amount of money spent on the casino question that failed this past November. So if there was ever any appetite to do something about the process, you’d think it would be now. However, there is little interest or support within the Senate Democratic caucus to pass a constitutional amendment or a bill tightening up the referendum process. Historically, when voters approve a citizen-initiated referendum, the Legislature has been very nervous about doing anything to impact the will of the people but between rank choice voting and the implementation of legalized marijuana initiatives, we have seen the leadership in the Legislature take steps to block or amend those bills voted on by the citizens.
Just a quick note about the upcoming election. Many more Republicans than Democrats will be termed out after this session – seven in the Senate compared to one Democrat, and 14 in the House, compared to seven Democrats. (Legislators termed out in 2018.)
Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, recently told me Democrats are way ahead in the race to field candidates in every district. But of the 21 Senate candidates registered of Dec. 20, 16 were Republicans and five were Democrats. In the House races, 34 Republicans have registered so far, 19 Democrats, five unenrolled, and two Libertarians. The deadline is not until March 15, so it’s really not an accurate depiction right now. The Senate Republicans do have some big shoes to fill with their term-limited vacancies, but they also have significant shifts of folks from the House running for the Senate, including Jeff Timberlake, Russell Black and Ellie Espling. Maine Senate candidates. Maine House candidates. (Source: Maine Commission on Governmental Elections and Election Practices.)
Whether there are term-limit vacancies or somebody leaving the Senate to run for governor – and there are several with 25 currently registered gubernatorial candidates – the Republicans have done a really good job of getting folks to shift over. So while the Democrats may seem to have the advantage on paper, it’s a long time until the next election – Nov. 6, 2018 – and who knows what can change? Any number of things could impact people’s perception or opinion of whether they’re likely to vote or what candidate they support.
The good news is that with legislators eager to get on the campaign trail and reluctant to face angry voters, it will help us defeat bad bills and make it more likely the session will adjourn close to the April 18th statutory adjournment.