Daily Brief: Expect construction traffic! Plus, the politics of tax reform

Good morning from the state’s capital city, where yesterday’s seemingly endless snowfall has abated just in time for the 74th annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show to kick off at the Augusta Civic Center. Gov. Paul LePage is scheduled to attend the opening day of the show, hosted by the state’s agriculture department.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee will meet with the governor’s finance commissioner to hear an overview of the budget. While members of the committee have already been briefed in private, today’s meeting represents their first chance to ask questions of Commissioner Richard Rosen in public. That could mean an early glimpse into which proposals in LePage’s $6.3 billion two-year spending plan have caught the attention of appropriators.

Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, will also brief the press today on their economic agenda for the upcoming session. 

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Looking for the traffic snarls

Our story yesterday about the unveiling of the Maine DOT’s three-year work plan — which outlines capital projects for the state’s transportation infrastructure — was necessarily brief. At 257 pages long, the plan includes nearly 2,000 work items worth roughly $2 billion. That’s far more than can be squeezed into one news story.

Municipal officials and others will be poring through the document looking to see which roads, bridges, rails, ports and airports in their communities are on deck for repair or replacement and you can too. The DOT’s online Interactive Work Plan will let you search for projects by town, so you can see what’s coming up in your neck of the woods.

With 523 capital projects planned for this year alone, knowing where the work will take place could prove helpful for Mainers making travel plans. So this winter, while you’re daydreaming and planning your summer weekend adventures, take a look at the construction schedule. You’ll want to know if your trip will require extra planning time to make it through any potential construction zones.

The politics of tax reform

AP’s Alanna Durkin — our State House press corps colleague — reported yesterday on the tricky situation some Maine Republicans find themselves in as Gov. LePage pushes a sales tax increase that many of them fought tooth and nail five years ago.

In 2009, Democrats passed into law a tax reform plan that expanded the sales tax and decreased the income tax. Republicans rallied to oppose the plan, and initiated a people’s veto that year. Ultimately, they won the referendum, and several sitting GOP lawmakers — including Senate President Michael Thibodeau of WInterport — won election in 2010 by stumping against Democrats’ tax increase.

Now, LePage is pushing a very similar idea — though he’s stressed that his plan creates savings while the Democratic proposal was budget-neutral — and Republicans are wrestling with whether to fall in line.

It’s worth noting the relative silence from lawmakers since LePage released his budget proposal last week. All the public comments so far have been hedged bets, with Democrats and Republicans alike giving little indication of whether they’ll support LePage’s tax plan.

Privately, some Democratic staffers are saying that if Democrats make a fight of the budget — if! — it likely won’t be about tax reform. Having supported a similar initiative in the past, it’s likely they’ll find a way to stomach the proposal, even with LePage’s name attached to it.

The real fight could take place behind closed doors in the Republican caucus. LePage’s signature budget initiative this year may depend on whether supporters in the governor’s party can convince their tax-averse colleagues that the tax reform scheme will save money in the end, as the governor argues.

A fight the consumer wins

Fights in politics often end up leaving voters feeling like they’re the only ones who never get a win. But fights in economy can be just the opposite. Take for example the case of the dueling gas stations in Waterboro: Southern Maine readers would do well to get themselves to Town Line Deli or Lakeside Market, where prices per gallon have dipped below $2 thanks to what BDN business reporter Darren Fishell called “a peculiar blend of global and local competition.”

Finally, a fight everyone can get behind.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.