Daily Brief: Lobbyists prep for budget hearings; job approval from Ike to Obama

Good morning from Augusta, where the first waves in a parade of lobbyists, advocates and possibly even some regular Maine residents are gathering to add their voices to the coming budget debate. 

The Appropriations Committee, responsible for turning Gov. Paul LePage’s $6.57 billion two-year budget proposal into a deal that will be amenable to the entire Legislature, will open its chamber to the general public to offer testimony on the governor’s tax reform proposals. The Taxation Committee will also take part int he hearings. 

Public testimony will continue through Thursday, and the final chance for the public to weigh in will be Monday. 

With Democratic and Republican lawmakers still reserving judgment of the budget, at least publicly, the talk about the budget has been dominated in large part by LePage and his allies — save for the handful of nonprofit groups who have made clear they don’t like the governor’s plan to tax their property. 

So reporters and observers will be interested to see if any new or unexpected fault lines become clear as the various groups weigh in. With LePage’s plan expanding the sales tax to nearly all services and goods, it’s expected that representatives from the would-be newly taxed businesses will line up to oppose the provision or ask for exemptions. We also know Maine Municipal Association and local leaders will oppose the plan to cut revenue sharing. 

But who will come out to support the budget? Will groups representing seniors throw their weight behind the plan, which includes tax relief provisions targeted for Maine’s elderly? Will veterans organizations come out for LePage, who wants to eliminate the tax on military pensions? 

Time will tell, and we’ll tell you. If you’re interested in providing Appropriations with your take on tax reform, here are the instructions. — Mario Moretto.

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Job approval, from Ike to Obama

Yesterday was Presidents Day and to mark the occasion, the Pew Research Center looked at presidential job approval ratings from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama.

Their analysis is interesting — and easily digestible, which is always nice. Some of the conclusions, based on numbers from Pew and Gallup, weren’t surprising. Views of the president by members the opposing party have become more negative over the decades, for example.

But one point really stuck out to me:

“High-profile presidential scandals don’t always cause huge or lasting drops in public approval. Clinton first reached his all-time high job approval of 71% in our February 1998 poll, amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Clinton again reached the 71% mark in our late December 1998 poll, after his impeachment by the House of Representatives. Reagan’s approval rating dropped to 49% in January 1987 during the Iran-Contra scandal, but he left office two years later with a 63% rating.

But Richard Nixon’s approval declined steadily throughout the Watergate scandal. His rating reached a high of 67% in January 1973, following his re-election, but plummeted to a low of 24% by the time he left office in August 1974.

Also of interest was the following chart of job approval rating highs and lows for each president in the survey.

FT_15.02.16_presidentialApprove_Hi_Lo2Obama’s average approval rating overall has varied far less than his predecessors, as demonstrated by the chart above.  In other words, Obama’s highs are lower than the previous presidents, but his lows are higher.

That makes sense, given that Obama has, so far, been the most polarizing president of the past six decades. There’s a whopping 67 point divide between the average approval rating of his own party (81 percent) and among the opposition (14 percent). That means there’s less room for movement. In a hyper-polarized electorate, people know exactly how they feel about the chief executive. And little will change their opinion. — Mario Moretto

Reading list

Ice cold dredges

Frequent readers will know I like to promote the beautiful work by the BDN’s stable of visual journalists. The snowy, cold weather has really allowed those intrepid photographers to shine. See, for example, the photo essay “Ice Cold Dredges” by Robert Bukaty, who documented a dredging crew from the Salem, Massachusetts,-based Burnham Associates as they worked in the Royal River in Yarmouth. The sea mist, river ice and orange morning light made for an eerie mood in the photos. Check them out. — Mario Moretto

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.