Good morning from Augusta, where a $29 million emergency spending bill called for by Gov. Paul LePage became law on Wednesday without the governor’s signature.
The bill includes pretty much everything the governor asked for in his proposal plus $4.8 million in grant funding to provide opiate addiction treatment to at least 400 Mainers this year. That funding deal was negotiated between Democrats and Mary Mayhew, LePage’s health and human services commissioner.
The budget also funnels $7.1 million to the University of Maine system, which LePage promised last year in exchange for the system maintaining a tuition freeze; $7 million to keep the Limestone-based Maine Military Authority refurbishing transit busses; and $4.9 million to support fish hatcheries.
The package also transfers $35 million in surplus funds to the Budget Stabilization Fund, which has long been another LePage priority. Practically speaking, the end result is the same with or without LePage’s signature: the bill is law.
But why didn’t the governor sign? We can only guess, since his office didn’t respond to questions from the BDN on Wednesday.
LePage has withheld his signature or vetoed budget bills going back years, allowing him the flexibility to take credit for items like the university tuition freeze but distance himself from others, such as bailing out the Maine Military Authority on a contract he temporarily halted in September 2016 because of cost overruns. — Christopher Cousins
- LePage’s Gorham town hall has been rescheduled. Just after the delivery of Wednesday’s Daily Brief newsletter, LePage’s staff announced that it had postponed last night’s town hall event in Gorham because of a parking ban in the area. The event has been rescheduled for 6 p.m. March 22 at Spire 29 on the Square at 29 School Street in Gorham. — Christopher Cousins
- U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin starts a 2018 re-election bid as a ‘likely’ favorite to win. In 2016, the Republican beat Democrat Emily Cain for the second time in Maine’s 2nd District, which is a swing district on paper. On Thursday, the University of Virginia’s Center on Politics rated his seat as “likely Republican” — a category of 30 seats it says “are just potentially competitive,” but probably wouldn’t be in a neutral electoral environment. No Democrat has been hinting at a Poliquin challenge in 2018. Poliquin has also been mum on questions about running for governor then. A 2nd District race without Poliquin would draw big names on both sides. — Michael Shepherd
- Another potential gubernatorial candidate is hitting President Donald Trump’s rollback of vehicle fuel economy rules. The Republican president’s move Wednesday to reassess former President Barack Obama’s fuel economy standards drew condemnation from Maine Conservation Voters, an environmental group that released a statement from board member Adam Lee, the chairman of Lee Auto Malls, who said higher standards haven’t hurt sales because people want to “reduce their impact on the environment and save money at the gas pump.” Lee is considering a Democratic bid for governor, and the environmental community is a big constituency in any Democratic primary. — Michael Shepherd
- Maine Democrats have launched a new road show. The Maine Democratic Party has announced that it will host “Values and Vision” public forums Saturday in Wilton and Sunday in Rockport. The events are designed to collect ideas from grassroots Democrats about what the party’s priorities should be. The first event takes place after the Franklin County Democrats pancake breakfast, starting at 10:30 a.m. at the Wilton Lion’s Club at 864 Main St. in Wilton. Among the attendees will be area lawmakers and top officials from the party, including Chairman Phil Bartlett. A similar event is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Rockport Union Hall at 24 Central St. in Rockport. — Christopher Cousins
- A Portland doctor is testifying in Congress today. Dr. Sam Zager of Portland was scheduled to testify this morning about the impacts of repealing the Affordable Care Act. He is part of a patient and provider panel. Zager is a member of Maine Providers Standing Up for Health Care, which is a new state organization that opposes repealing the law. — Christopher Cousins
- Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has co-sponsored a bill to protect the LGBT community from jury discrimination. Collins teamed up with Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire on the bill, which would prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people during federal jury selections. The bill would end the practice of striking jurors in federal courts on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It would codify a 2014 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. — Christopher Cousins
Today in A-town
- The House and Senate are in this morning, beginning around 10 a.m. Both chambers have a slew of bills to refer to committees, but judging by notices in today’s House calendar, the committees are reciprocating by reporting out lots of bills. Eighteen bills are being reported back “ought not to pass” today alone and there are several more in the Senate calendar.
- Committees will be busy this afternoon. The Judiciary Committee will take testimony on bills related to adoption laws; the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee is considering changes to hunting and fishing laws; and the Transportation Committee will possibly make a recommendation on a bill that would start Maine on a track to complying with federal Real ID laws.
- A bill prompted by Bangor Daily News reporting on competitive electricity providers is up for a public hearing. The proposal from Assistant Senate Minority Leader Nathan Libby, D-Lewiston, would require competitive electricity providers to disclose when their rates are higher than the standard offer and prevent them from renewing contracts without express consent from customers. It was prompted by BDN reporting that found Mainers spent about $50 million more than they had to between 2012 and 2015 on electricity because of the competitive market. It has also led to a proposed class-action lawsuit against Electricity Maine. Libby’s bill faces a public hearing before the Legislature’s Energy Committee at 1 p.m. alongside two other proposals from Rep. Norman Higgins, R-Dover Foxcroft, and Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, that would respectively prohibit competitive electricity providers from charging more than the standard offer and continuing service beyond a year without express consent. Listen here. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd
- The part of Maine that backed Trump is least likely to benefit from GOP health plan — Jackie Farwell, BDN
- Neighbors, land trust pan plan to dredge river for Bath Iron Works — Beth Brogan, BDN
- A missing comma keeps Oakhurst Dairy labor lawsuit alive — Nick McCrea, BDN
- Out-of-staters owe Maine almost $17 million in taxes — Jake Bleiberg, BDN
- Maine arts proponents fear funding cuts from President Trump — Steve Collins, Sun Journal
- Maine House passes Jared Golden’s bill to help veterans get ID — Collins
- Did Trump leak his own tax return? That was the big question after Maddow — The Washington Post
- Skeptical US lawmakers pressure Comey on Trump wiretap claim — Reuters
- The unbelievable story behind how Trump’s enemies fell for a $1.6 billion hoax — BuzzFeed
Alaskans don’t know a grumpy moose when they see one
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that wildlife officials in Alaska have warned people to keep their distance from moose that are showing signs of — we swear we are not making this up — being grumpy.
In one incident, a moose started eating chicken feed from a bucket carried by an Anchorage woman. When she turned around, the moose “reared back and kicker her right in the noggin,” a state biologist told the AP.
Another moose charged skiers in a ski lift line in Girdwood. Authorities shot and killed the moose and were still wondering why the moose were grumpy.
“Not all moose are looking for a fight right now but they do tend to get a little cranky this time of year,” said a fish and game spokesman, who said the incident reminded him of the running of the bulls in Pamplona.
These folks should know better about how to placate their moose. Consider Buzzwinkle, who for a time was Anchorage’s town drunk because he feasted on fermented apples a little too much.
That guy should come to Maine if he wants to see what “cranky” is all about. Remember in 2014 when a moose calf attacked a wildlife biologist in Jackman? Or later that year when a New Hampshire couple was charged by a moose on a snowmobile trail?
You’re so cute, Alaska. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins