UMaine professors protest merger plan as tuition frozen for sixth straight year

Good morning from Augusta, where some eyes are cast north to Bangor. That’s where the University of Maine System Board of Trustees are meeting to consider, among other things, a budget that freezes tuition at the university for a sixth year in a row.

That means tuition costs at the system’s seven universities will remain at approximately $7,600, according to data provided by the system. That makes Maine the only state in the country that achieved a decrease in the cost of public higher education over the past five years.

The tuition freeze was approved in March but is now being considered as part of the university system’s overall 2017 budget, which is up for a vote today.

The trustees began their meeting on Sunday for an all-day executive session to discuss personnel assignments and duties, according to the agenda. Today’s meeting includes confirmation of new members to the board, election of board officers and approval of the fiscal year 2017 budget.

The budget is balanced through the use of funds from the system’s budget stabilization fund and campus reserves, as well as $4.65 million that Gov. Paul LePage has pledged to the system in a supplemental budget he says he’ll propose when the new Legislature is seated in January 2017.

The system announced this morning that a multi-year budget analysis predicts a $400,000 surplus for the system in fiscal year 2021. That surplus — which is good news, considering the system was projecting a $90 million shortfall by 2019 just two years ago — is attributed partially to the system’s implementation of its “One University” initiative, a sweeping plan to merge a number of functions across the system’s seven campuses.

The plan isn’t without its detractors. The Associated Faculties of the University of Maine, a labor union which is part of the Maine Education Association, planned to have several of its members speak in opposition to One University during today’s meeting.

You can stream the meeting by clicking here. Otherwise, watch for coverage and monitor the BDN’s @nmccrea213 on Twitter. — Christopher Cousins  

The numbers behind the new April unemployment numbers

Maine’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in April was 3.4 percent, which was unchanged from March and down a percentage point from April of 2015.

For once, Maine is ahead of the national average in something. The U.S. unemployment rate was about 5 percent, though two neighboring states, New Hampshire and Vermont, had lower rates than Maine at 2.6 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively.

While Maine’s numbers are looking good, the number crunchers at the Maine Center for Economic Policy are saying this cloud has a rusty liner: Too many Mainers who are counted as “employed” are still struggling to find full-time jobs. Exacerbating the problem is Mainers who have been forced to leave the workforce because of health concerns or family responsibilities, according James Myall, a MECEP policy analyst.

MECEP said there is good news in another number. The proportion of Mainers participating in the labor force is rising, which is good because it reached its lowest point in 33 years in February of this year. That number, along with the shrinking unemployment rate, means more Mainers are looking for jobs but that the number of jobs isn’t increasing. While the number of unemployed Mainers has declined by 8,000 since last year at this time, the total employed population of 652,000 has not changed.

“Maine remains one of a handful of states where job levels have yet to reach pre-recession levels,” said Myall in a written statement. “All other New England states have recovered at least 100 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, a threshold the nation crossed two years ago. One hundred months after the start of the recession, Mainers are still waiting.”

If the unemployment rate creeps upward in the coming months, it could be because more Mainers are looking for jobs that just aren’t there. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Steve Biel of Portland has filed a complaint with the Maine Ethics Commission against Democratic Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland, who is running for the Senate in the June primary. The complaint alleges that Chipman did not properly disclose how a recent mailer to Portland voters was paid for. You can read more about the complaint by clicking here. Biel has been publicly supporting another candidate in this Portland-area Senate primary: Democratic Rep. Diane Russell.
  • Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick will continue his work on senior citizen issues — which he has made his priority for years — with a statewide listening tour that begins June 8 at the Dorothy Stevens Community Center in Kennebunk. Future dates and locations have not yet been announced.
  • U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has co-authored a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter urging the Pentagon to reform how it treats veterans who were improperly discharged after experiencing military sexual trauma. The letter comes on the heels of new 124-page report by the Human Rights Watch which found some rape victims have been improperly discharged, threatening their benefits as veterans.

Reading list

This song is stuck in my head, and now maybe yours (sorry)

I had a couple of days off last week, but Maine politics is never far from my thoughts. Or my dreams, apparently.

I woke today with a random song (that I don’t even particularly like) cycling through my head. Does it prove that my devotion to my readers extends even to my subconscious and when I’m sleeping?


I just wish the tunes were better. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.