LePage to highlight plight of older Mainers in State of the State address

Good morning from Augusta. The New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions after the greatest football game I’ve ever seen.

Here’s a story on the quandary faced by one of our colleagues when deciding whether or not to watch the game while deployed in Afghanistan. We’ll have more later from the Daily Brief’s Chris Cousins, who was lucky enough to be in Houston.

But the Maine State House will be the scene of its own kind of sporting event on Tuesday, when Gov. Paul LePage will deliver the annual State of the State address after releasing it only in letter form in 2016.

What are we expecting? The Republican governor told WGAN last week that the address will be “heavily weighted toward what’s happening to the elderly in our state.”

This has been a common theme for LePage as he has continued to rail against the minimum wage increase passed by voters in November, arguing that it will cause price increases that particularly hurt people on fixed incomes.

“People talk about this minimum wage like it’s not going to hurt anybody,” he said. “Well, I’ll show you some people that are being hurt by it next Tuesday.”

Of course, there’s more to the story than that. In Seattle, a study found little evidence of early price increases and it’s too early to tell what the increase’s impact has looked like in Maine.

But the Brookings Institution has recommended that states use half of the median wage as a benchmark for the minimum. It pegged Maine’s target at around $9.50 in 2014. Maine’s minimum is set to rise from $9 now to $12 by 2020, so it could be too high to avoid some deleterious effects.

As he urges the Legislature to rein in the minimum wage law, he’s also floating a bill on another issue: He wants to allow elderly people who owe property tax and face having their properties seized by cities and towns to live in their homes until they die.

That’s after he took an interest in one Albion case, where Richard and Leonette Sukeforth — both 80 — had their home sold by the town over $4,000 in back taxes and were later evicted, according to the Morning Sentinel.

The governor said last week that he’ll be “bringing in some elderly” people to Tuesday night’s State of the State address to “let the people of Maine see the people that have been thrown out on the streets,” intimating that there will be special guests in the House chamber during the speech.

So, expect his conventional Republican economic message to be fused with a rural brand of populism on Tuesday from a governor who is always a must-watch. We’ll have live coverage. — Michael Shepherd

CorrectionDue to a typographical error, this item gave the wrong year for Maine’s minimum wage increase to $12. It will rise to that level by 2020.

Quick hits

  • The Maine Department of Health and Human Services referred $1.7 million in welfare fraud cases for prosecution in 2016. That was trumpeted by the department in a news release last week. It was up from $1.2 million in 2015. The department referred 174 cases to the attorney general’s office in 2016, up from 121 in 2015. The administration fielded nearly 2,800 complaints of fraud last year. Many cases highlighted by DHHS were in the MaineCare and food stamp programs. But for scale, total Medicaid costs in Maine were at $2.6 billion in 2012 and $282 million in food stamps were issued in 2015.
  • A progressive group is running ads in Maine against President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. People For the American Way said Maine is one of 12 states being targeted with an ad urging senators to vote against Judge Neil Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge who is a favorite of conservatives. He was also protested in Bangor this weekend.
  • U.S. Sen. Susan Collins wants more money for Alzheimer’s disease research. The Maine Republican asked Trump for more funding in a letter signed by a bipartisan group of 11 other senators. She chairs the Senate Aging Committee.
  • Hearings on LePage’s biennial budget proposal start today. The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee will hear testimony on revenue sharing and tax changes starting at 10 a.m. on Monday.

Reading list

Chris didn’t send me a kicker from Houston, but all is forgiven

Some of us should be as lucky as Chris Cousins, who went expenses-paid to Houston with a friend who won tickets to the best Super Bowl in history.

Still not believing what I had just seen, I texted Chris after the game to tell him that he had to provide Daily Brief readers with a dispatch today. He texted back at 2:12 a.m. to say that he’d “try.” I didn’t count on it.

But on Facebook, he called it “the highest high I’ve ever experienced in my life” and noted his participation in the incredible booing of the NFL’s commissioner.

“I will say that booing Roger Goodell was one of the great moments in sports history,” he said. “What a trip!”

All is forgiven, Chris. Here’s your soundtrack, from Pats fans’ lips to the commissioner’s ears. Enjoy the glow of victory. — 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.