Daily Brief: Poliquin meets Obama and picks up natural gas fight

For a day without the House and Senate in session, Wednesday was a busy one in Augusta. Legislative committees heard hours of testimony from department heads, who briefed lawmakers about their agencies’ work and the effect Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget proposal would have on it. 

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address garnered some conversation, although lawmakers and state employees seemed more eager to chat about the ongoing “Deflategate” controversy about the New England Patriots using underinflated balls during their playoff win against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday

Thursday is another committee-dominated day with quick House and Senate sessions in the morning, followed by numerous committee meetings in the afternoon. 

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LePage to address 700-person Realtors conference

Gov. Paul LePage will deliver opening remarks this morning at a meeting of the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s annual forecast conference at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.

The LePage appearance is made more interesting by the sheer scope of the event: More than 700 developers, brokers, architects, bankers, attorneys, accountants and other real estate professionals are expected to attend. The event, which will be covered by the Bangor Daily News, features a series of experts commenting on Maine’s economy and the outlook for the real estate industry.

Poliquin advocating for natural gas in Congress

Thanks to the astute observations of reporter Mike Shephard of the Kennebec Journal and his subsequent Tweet after Tuesday’s State of the Union, we know that U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, made an impromptu plea to President Barack Obama after the speech to help bring more natural gas to New England.

Poliquin followed that up Wednesday with a floor speech in favor of the National Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act. He spoke of how fluctuations in electricity costs, which he said could be stabilized with a more reliable supply of natural gas to northern New England, helped lead to the closure of three paper mills in 2014 and layoffs at a fourth this year.

“We must allow the increased production and transportation of natural gas to drive down the cost of electric power to save our mills and factories, and save our jobs,” said Poliquin.

That’s almost a carbon copy of what Gov. Paul LePage, a political ally of Poliquin’s, has been saying for months. The measure passed in the Republican-controlled U.S. House on Wednesday; though Obama has vowed to veto it.

Bangor school superintendent testifying on Capitol Hill

Bangor schools Superintendent Betsy Webb is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Senate Education, Health, Labor & Pensions Committee this morning to testify about the unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act’s “30-hour Full-time Rule” on the Bangor School District.

According to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is a member of the committee, Webb is one of several professionals from across the United States who will testify beginning at about 9:30 a.m. You can listen to the hearing live by clicking here.

Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with at least 50 employees must provide health insurance to their full-time workers or pay a fine, but the law defines “full-time” as 30 hours per week. Critics, including Collins, believe the law has caused employers to cut employees hours in an effort to save money on health insurance.

Collins is one of the co-authors of bipartisan legislation in the Senate known as the Forty House is Full-time Act of 2015. The bill would change the definition of full-time to 40 hours a week.

Reading list

LePage, Yummy and Mitch

It turns out that LePage has a lot in common with the History Channel’s Down East Dickering star “Yummy,” who met with the governor at the State House on Wednesday to discuss an upcoming fund raiser against domestic violence.

“Just when you’re ready to write Yummy off, he somehow sails through triumphant, without ever spending a penny of his own money,” says the History Channel of Yummy.

Sounds familiar.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.