Daily Brief: State of the State preview and Maine’s dying (?) middle class

Gov. Paul LePage. BDN file photo by Gabor Degre

Gov. Paul LePage will address a joint session of the divided Legislature for the second time in a month when he delivers his State of the State address tonight in the Maine House of Representatives.

The speech is expected to be more policy-oriented than his January inaugural address, as the governor makes his budget pitch to the full Legislature for the first time since unveiling the spending plan last month. Meanwhile, Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen will also brief the budget-writing Appropriations Committee on LePage’s spending plan earlier this afternoon.

One might also expect LePage’s speech to follow the theme of moving Maine “from poverty to prosperity,” which appears to be the governor’s refrain for his fifth year in office, much like “people before politics” in his first and “actions speak louder than words” in his fourth.

Much has changed for LePage since his State of the State address in 2014. When the governor took the rostrum last year, the political environment was one in which his boldest proposals — whether they were welfare reform, “Open for Business Zones,” or a public  referendum on tax cuts — were destined for the legislative scrap heap. Democratic majorities in both chambers saw to it that the initiatives went nowhere. 

Now, after Republicans won control in the Senate and eroded Democrats’ majority in the House, LePage can see a path to victory for his budget for the first time since 2011, when his party controlled the Legislature. That path is made much more clear if he can win over a handful of opposition party members in the House. Inviting several Democratic lawmakers to a post-speech reception at the Blaine House, the type of affair usually open only to his own party, appears to be an effort by LePage to reach out. 

The speech begins at 7 p.m. today, and bangordailynews.com will provide live coverage as well as post-speech analysis. And don’t forget to sign up to receive the Daily Brief in your inbox every morning.– Mario Moretto

Photo: Gov. Paul LePage after last year’s State of the State Address. BDN file photo by Gabor Degre.

Is Maine’s middle class dying?

An article on MSN Money — cross-posted there from 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion outlet — puts Maine at No. 3 on a list of states where the middle-class is getting smaller.

The authors’ reliance on commentary from the liberal Center for American Progress and economist Thomas Piketty, a French economist beloved by the Left, could say something about 24/7 Wall St.’s political leanings. But the numbers in the story seem largely to speak for themselves.

The authors looked at a variety of official data (listed at the bottom of this page), but the gist is that income for the third quintile of Maine earners sank 5.8 percent from 2009 to 2013, compared to 4.3 percent nationally. Here’s the bit in the post about Maine:

Like in several other states where the middle class is falling behind, income in Maine is relatively well-distributed. However, the income gap in Maine is widening faster than in the nation as a whole. Average incomes among the wealthiest 20 percent of households in the state grew by 2.2 percent between 2009 and 2013, one of the faster growth rates and much faster than the comparable national figure of just 0.4 percent. Incomes among households in the third quintile, on the other hand, declined by 5.8 percent over that time.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The authors note that while income is moving up Maine’s economic ladder, the state’s unemployment and poverty rates are better than the respective national averages.

Reading list

Snowfall means windfalls for cabbies

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be cursing the snowfall for complicating your morning commute as you dig your car out from however much snow fell in your neck of the woods yesterday and last night. But as the BDN’s Nok-Noi Ricker reports, all this white stuff is good business for some Mainers — and not just the ones who work at ski resorts.

Cab drivers in Bangor struggle to keep up with demand during snowstorms, as drivers opt to be chauffeured to appointments rather than dig out their cars and brave the roads themselves. “On days when it’s crappy like this, people still go places,” one driver told Ricker. Read the story, here.

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.