Daily Brief: Rhode Island vs. Maine in a battle for New England’s seniors

Good morning. 

I’m not sure how it looks where you are, but here in Central Maine, as of Thursday morning, the snow is just starting to hit. If the weather cooperates, budget negotiators in Augusta will entertain dozens of  members of the public for the third day in a row as the Appropriations Committee opens its doors for public comment on Gov. Paul LePage’s $6.57 billion two-year budget. 

Tuesday, Appropriators heard comments on the big income tax cut and the elimination of the estate tax. Yesterday, they listened as town officials, one after another, decried the proposed elimination of state aid to municipalities.

Today, those budget-writers, along with the Taxation Committee, will gauge public opinion on a proposal meant to ease the pain of some of that lost funding for local government: LePage’s plan to subject the property of large private nonprofit organizations to taxation. Such groups are currently tax exempt.

Hospitals, private colleges and other large nonprofits have decried the plan, saying the valuable public services they provide should continue to ensure their exemption from local taxation. But LePage and others have said that large nonprofit organizations are among the largest consumers of local services, and must pay their fair share. 

Today’s is the last hearing this week, but budget-writers will open their doors for public testimony one final time on Monday. — Mario Moretto.

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Rhode Island steps to Maine

If Rhode Island is successful, maybe Maine’s more calculating retirees will consider a move to The Ocean State.

Much of LePage’s tax-reform initiative is aimed squarely at Maine’s senior population, including a move to more than triple the exemption on pension income from $10,000 to $35,000.

“Many Mainers change their residence to other states after retirement due to the high taxes on pension benefits relative to other states,” LePage wrote in a budget presentation for reporters. LePage believes that decreasing taxes on seniors will encourage them to stay in Maine, and continue spending money here, rather than in other states (though not everyone believes the incentive will work).

Well, according to the Associated Press, Rhode Island could give Maine a run for its money, with 12 bills presented this year by lawmakers aimed at cutting taxes on pensions — including one plan by a Democrat to exempt all retirement income from taxation completely. — Mario Moretto.

Republican youth movement

#Gen207, the arm of the Maine Republican Party focused on youth recruitment and retention, is holding another of its “Ask me (almost) anything” forums tonight, this time at the University of Maine.

The event has young GOP leaders take the stage to answer questions from the audience about being young and Republican — two labels many think to be mutually exclusive. This time, the panel includes state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn and two members of Maine’s RNC delegation, Ashley Ryan of Portland and former House Minority Whip Alex Willette of Mapleton.

This is the third such event that I know of. The first took place before a friendly audience of fellow Republicans in Rockland, the second at the Maine GOP Convention in Bangor. It will be interesting to see whether an event staged at a university will draw a different audience, and more pressing questions. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

Remembering 491 Main St.

When they learn I work for the Bangor Daily News, people I meet here at the State House regularly ask me some variation of this question: “Oh, wow. You drove all the way down from Bangor?” I tell them I don’t work in the Queen City. Like most state politics reporters in Maine, Chris Cousins and I are based in the State House Press Corps, a hop, skip and jump from state capitol building.

I haven’t worked at the paper’s Bangor headquarters since 2010, when I was an intern on the copy desk. To me,the building was this fascinating relic from the past. I explored the old press room, already vacant by that point, but full of equipment that was totally foreign to me as a child of the 21st century — linotype machines, ancient AP wire feeds, heavy typewriters.

“Down there with those machines, I imagine editors with rolled up sleeves, sweating over deadlines,” I wrote at the time. “I picture members of the International Typographic Union peering through thick clouds of cigarette smoke to carefully set type. I picture noise, and lots of it, as the papers are printed and folded.”

That was all in my head, though — based on movies I’d seen that depicted newspapers at the height of print’s dominance, and on historical photos of the newsroom and press room that hanged in the BDN’s corridors and offices, reminding current employees of what it used to be like there at 491 Main St.

Now the BDN is moving to a new downtown office building, with all that goes with it. A modern office suited for our needs as a digital-first news outlet, with none of the burden that comes with working in a more than 60-year-old building designed to hold not only people, but very large machines.

The move doesn’t really affect me. I still won’t work in Bangor. But there are people at the BDN who have worked in that building since before I was born. A lot of history is leaving the corner of Buck Street and Main.

I look forward to the occasional stories that will bring me to Bangor, working in the slick new office building. But I’ll also miss the time I spent at 491 Main St., and will feel just a little nostalgic, for both the little time I spent there and for the 60 years of stories I never really knew.  — 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.