Daily Brief: LePage not expecting much from Obama’s State of the Union

Good morning from Augusta, where lawmakers have returned after the three-day weekend. 

This week, members of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee begin their deeper look at Gov. Paul LePage’s $6.3 billion two-year budget. While we’ve heard the broad strokes of the governor’s plan, senior LePage administration officials this week will brief the committee about the specific funding and budget initiatives in each of their departments. 

Tomorrow, two of the largest state agencies, which often play host to heated policy debates, will take center stage. The Department of Education and leaders from the state’s public institutions of higher ed will be on hand first, including acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin. His meeting with appropriators will be his first appearance at a public meeting since his unceremonious appointment last month.

Then comes Commissioner Mary Mayhew of the Department of Health and Human Services. The DHHS budget has flown mostly under the radar, subsumed by LePage’s tax reform proposals, but Mayhew will present a budget that she says represents a sea change for the department: For the first time in years, she says, there is no Medicaid shortfall. Lawmakers undoubtedly will have questions about that, and about funding for the troubled Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta

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‘Same old, same old’

President Barack Obama is scheduled to give his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress tonight, and administration officials said the president will use the address to advocate for new taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street banks, among other initiatives.

Many politicos and observers await the address each year, but Gov. Paul LePage isn’t one of them.

“This is his sixth year now, six State of the Unions, and I haven’t heard anything that’s moving the country forward,” said LePage in an interview Monday. “Same old, same old. I don’t expect much.”

LePage said it’s possible the federal and state governments could collaborate on efforts to expand broadband access — something LePage and Obama have both pushed in recent weeks — but that he wouldn’t hold his breath.

“In my four years as governor, there haven’t been very many things you can work with the federal government on,” he said. “If you get involved with them, there’s no flexibility. They control everything.”

Pingree makes climate change plea

Last year was the hottest on record, as surface and ocean temperatures climbed to previously unseen highs, according to a new report released last week by NOAA and NASA.

The report is “another piece of evidence that climate change is real, it’s happening now and we should be long past the point where politicians are debating whether it really exists,” Pingree said.  “A coastal state like Maine is particularly vulnerable to the effects of warming ocean temperatures and rising sea levels.  Our economy is dependent on our coastal resources and climate change threatens those resources.”

Temperatures were about 1.24 degrees above the 20th century average, the agencies reported.

Pingree is an advocate for renewable energy as a way to reduce greenhouse gases and boost Maine’s sluggish economy.

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Our beautiful state

I know we usually try to leave you with some cheeky, funny link or factoid here at the end of the Daily Brief, but today I wanted to draw your attention to the simple beauty of our state. BDN photojournalist Gabor Degre made this set of amazing photos from Acadia National Park on what looked like a really, really cold day.

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.