Will the Maine Legislature bail out mill towns?

Good morning from Augusta, where a last-minute bill to change Maine’s school funding formula to help struggling mill towns was amended amid confusion and urban-rural divide by the House of Representatives on Wednesday night.

It was proposed by Gov. Paul LePage as a response to recent paper mill closures. Last month, the mill in Madison announced that it will shut down in May, laying off 214 workers.

It’s a product of negotiations between Gov. Paul LePage and the legislative delegation around Madison, including Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, and Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock.

The collaborative effort aims to help towns that have seen large property tax decreases after mill closures or downward valuations by increasing school funding, providing $900,000 in surplus education money to Madison and other affected towns on a one-time basis. That isn’t terribly controversial.

However, LePage’s version of the bill also makes permanent, more generic changes to Maine’s school funding formula to trigger emergency funding when a town sees a loss of 4.5 percent in valuation attributable to one employer.

That version passed in the Senate, but many Democrats took issue with that latter portion, with Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, narrowly failing to pass an amendment that limited those formula changes to a year amid concern that funding would be diverted from other communities to fill gaps. McCabe heard similar concerns from Democrats in a party caucus before a House vote.

However, he warned against changes, saying the deal with LePage is “tied together with thread” and that it came up in this last-minute fashion because the governor, who has been feuding with McCabe, refused to fund an earlier valuation bill sponsored by McCabe. Whittemore is the chief sponsor of this bill.

But Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, came out of that caucus and proposed the one-year amendment, winning wide support in a 110-39 House vote against the Somerset County delegation. It now goes to the Senate, which would have to agree.

You can catch up on yesterday’s action with our live blog — the best way we’ve found to track the rapid-fire action in the State House as the Legislature winds toward adjournment perhaps by Friday — and watch our website today for more. — Michael Shepherd

Cain speaks before secretive, big-name donor network

Democratic 2nd Congressional District hopeful Emily Cain is taking fire from Republicans after Politico reported her presentation at a four-day California conference put on by a secretive network of progressive groups and big-name donors.

The Democracy Alliance, whose reported members include billionaire George Soros, has been criticized for trying to meet its stated goal of fighting money in politics by injecting big money into politics by funding a portfolio of groups including the Center for American Progress and Media Matters.

Politico has reported that its members pay $30,000 per year in dues to the groups and must contribute $200,000 per year to approved groups, many of which don’t disclose donors. In the 2014 cycle, they planned to spend $374 million.

This year’s conference, which was at a hotel in Santa Monica earlier this week and closed to the press, included a presentation with “Hollywood actors and directors on how Hollywood has been used to promote progressive ideals, and how it can be utilized more effectively in the future,” according to an agenda leaked to Politico.

Cain present as a part of candidate-focused discussion. It’s a coveted invitation and it’s another illustration of deep national interest in her campaign against U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who she lost to in 2014. Her rematch will be difficult.

Poliquin has been a fundraising juggernaut, getting lots from the financial sector. He’s expected to report having $1 million more than Cain in the bank as of March’s end.

Corey Hascall, Cain’s campaign manager, said she’s “doing what’s needed to compete” against Poliquin, criticizing his indecision on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Democrat opposes.

But Republicans pounced on Cain’s appearance, with Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage criticizing her as out of touch and out of step with her past statements on money in politics.

“Do Maine people really believe that a lifelong politician who would rather be on the stage in Hollywood than caring about Maine people is best equipped to help them deal with their real-life concerns?” he said in a release. — Michael Shepherd

Correction: This post has been updated to correct the timing of the conference and a reference to groups funded by the Democracy Alliance. 

Quick hits

  • Poliquin introduced a bill on Thursday that would require the Department of Defense to provide American-made athletic shoes to servicemembers. That comes after New Balance, which employs 900 people in Maine, broke its silence on the Trans-Pacific Partnership after it said Obama administration promised them a shot at a military contract without following through.
  • Maine could repeal the sales tax on tampons and other feminine hygiene products, with a joint order directing a legislative committee to pass a bill doing that passing the House in an initial vote. It’s been tabled for about a month in the Senate, but it’s on today’s calendar. Five states — Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — have carved tampons out of sales tax laws, according to Fusion— Michael Shepherd

Reading list

A King’s case of mistaken identity

MSNBC mixed up its congressional Kings in a graphic on Thursday, confusing Rep. Peter King, R-New York, with Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent.

On Twitter, somebody wrote that Peter King wouldn’t look like Angus King “even if you draw on a mustache.” I tried it and he’s right.

Sorry, Angus. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.