Good morning from the State House, where it’s fair to say the Legislature is finally in full swing. That means there’s a dense schedule of committee work this afternoon which will draw in people from across Maine to support or oppose myriad bills working their way through the process.
The breadth of topics is wide. The Education Committee, as they often do, will consider bills related to public school funding, while the Environment and Natural Resources Committee takes on the eradication of nuisance milfoil in Maine’s waterways. Over at the Transportation Committee, lawmakers are looking at vehicle registration and inspection laws, including whether horse-drawn carriages and wagons should be required to use reflectors. The Appropriations Committee is knee-deep in Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget proposal and is scheduled for further discussions about his tax-reform proposal with Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen and Deputy Finance Commissioner Mike Allen. That kicks off at 1 p.m. and can be streamed live here, if you’re interested.
The Maine Association of Conservation Districts has its annual awareness day in the Hall of Flags, with runs until about 1 p.m.
If you’re not already receiving the State & Capitol Daily Brief in your email inbox, spend the next 15 seconds signing up for it here. — Christopher Cousins
LePage: Heat will cost you more, maybe
It’s been an intense winter and we’re living through the extremes of what Mother Nature can throw at us in terms of both snow and cold. On the latter front, at least, there has been some positive news in heating oil prices that have been creeping slowly toward $2 a gallon for months.
Well, it’s possible that the price of No. 2 heating oil, on which Mainers rely more than any state in the country, are back on the upswing. The state’s Energy Office reported Wednesday that the average per-gallon price across Maine is now $2.60 a gallon, up four cents from two weeks ago but still well below the $3.88 per gallon we were paying this time last year. Kerosene and propane prices are also creeping upwards.
There’s no consensus about where energy prices will go from here. “Energy market prognosticators have been doing a bit of speculating,” reads a press release from the governor’s Energy Office. “Some are predicting prices will continue falling, and others say prices will climb.”
All has been relatively quiet on the energy policy front so far this legislative session, but LePage and lawmakers from both parties have said it will be a major focus. Though everyone understands that low energy prices won’t last forever, this year’s dip will take some of the urgency out of the process, which could be a momentum killer.
What are you supposed to do with that information? We’re not even halfway through February, so just go ahead and order some oil regardless of the price. You’ll need it. — Christopher Cousins
Sussman’s political donations measured on ‘mega donors’ list
Just like Christmas advertisements seem to come a little earlier every year, political campaigns for president become earlier and earlier, too. Not only are numerous candidates from both parties floating their names and possible candidacies, but big-money donors are starting to write checks. According to a Business Insider article published Wednesday, the biggest money will come from 16 Wall Street “mega donors” who have dwarfed all others in the past two election cycles.
At the top of the list of mega donors is California-based hedge fund manager Thomas Steyer, who easily outpaced all others with more than $167 million in political giving to liberal candidates. That’s a breathtaking number when you consider that second on the list is reclusive mathematician James Harris Simons, who gave a paltry $17 million over the past two election cycles.
Down at No. 7 on the Business Insider list is another hedge fund manager, Donald Sussman, who is married to Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District. Interesting tidbit: According to the article, Sussman began building his fortune in 1958 at age 12 when he won a bet on the effect the Cuban Revolution would have on sugar prices.
Sussman’s donations in the past two cycles have totaled nearly $5.9 million. — Christopher Cousins
- LePage trolls for support for his tax reform package on first stop of public tour — by Mario Moretto, BDN
- Maine lawmakers offer relief to students trapped by college debt — Christopher Cousins, BDN
- Lawmakers consider naming Labrador retriever ‘state dog’ — Christopher Cousins, BDN
- A (formerly) prominent Maine Republican describes why he’s left the party — Vic Berardelli, special to the BDN
- Opioid use on the rise as LePage proposes changes to treatment — David Harry of The Forecaster
- The Wal-Mart effect: Crime rates plummet in Rockland, spike in Thomaston — Stephen Betts, BDN
- Pro-pot groups split on how to make Maine ‘weed basket for New England’ — Scott Thistle, Sun Journal
- Maine’s Riverview Psychiatric Center in need of more staff, state says — Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald
- (Moment of silence alert) ’60 Minutes’ correspondent Bob Simon killed in New York City car crash — Reuters
- (Just plain cool) Snowplow dislodges hidden 1913 time capsule at Caribou church — Lisa Wilcox, Aroostook Republican & News
I left my cash in Waterville, Maine
Since becoming state treasurer, Terry Hayes has spent a lot of time pushing the state’s unclaimed property program. Just look at all the social media posts. Of course, she’s right to tout the program; There’s an estimated $20 million of unclaimed cash out there in checking accounts, unpaid wages, insurance payments and more just waiting for Mainers to pick it up.
That includes even some high-profile Mainers, as was discovered in a list of unclaimed property provided by Rep. Thomas Longstaff of Waterville (lawmakers are given lists of unclaimed property in their districts so they can attempt to notify their constituents). The list showed that LePage Transition 2010, the governor’s organization for ensuring a smooth entrance into the Blaine House when he won his first election, has more than $1,000 to pick up in accounts payable from Medco Health Solutions Inc.
Unclaimed cash can even outlive its intended recipient. There’s still more than $1,000 in insurance money payable to Rumford native and former Maine governor, U.S. senator and U.S. secretary of state Ed Muskie, who died in 1996.
All that is to say: Go get your money, Maine. — Mario Moretto