What Mainers need to know about Trump’s budget

Good morning from Augusta, where President Donald Trump’s budget outline released this week that’s drawing mixed to negative reviews from Maine’s congressional delegation would change the order of business for many government programs.

The outline is a stunning reprioritization of the discretionary spending for departments and agencies that makes up about one-third of federal spending. Mandatory spending, such as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and defense spending, isn’t touched. Trump has broken from conservative orthodoxy to not suggest cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

That makes this budget outline a hard exercise: The Atlantic explained it with charts showing how the proposal “offsets a modest increase in military funding with historic cuts to domestic programs.”

Maine could benefit from increased defense spending, but those smaller cuts hit many agencies in ways that would disproportionately impact the state. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Trump would allocate 10 percent more funding to the Department of Defense, which could benefit defense contractors in Maine. This could benefit shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works and drew positive reviews from Republicans in Maine’s delegation, with Sen. Susan Collins saying it strengthens military funding amid “serious national security challenges around the globe.” Rep. Bruce Poliquin of 2nd District said he was “pleased the President is committed to strengthening our national security.” However, the Navy’s shift away from the type of surface combatant vessels that Bath Iron Works builds and the years-long appropriation process for contracts leave much in doubt about any immediate impact. And defense industry analysts note that while the budget increases the allocation for discretionary defense spending, it only provides a 3 percent increase over what the Pentagon spent last year, not exactly a windfall and less than what Trump promised on the campaign trail.
  • Cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would hammer the University of Maine. It would kill the $73 million Sea Grant program, which funds a dozen researchers affiliated with UMaine. Collins and U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, have already objected to those cuts. The Maine Department of Marine Resources has also indicated concern about the potential reduction of other funds under NOAA.
  • A program helping low-income people heat their homes would be eliminated. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, would be tossed under the proposal. It gave $34 million in aid to Maine households this year. Poliquin cited that as a main concern with the proposal and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, said it was one of the reasons that Trump’s budget is “dead on arrival.”
  • It would also end a federal-state commission established to aid struggling border communities. The relatively small Northern Border Regional Commission, which serves Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York, would be cut. Between 2010 and 2015, it put nearly $3.9 million into economic and infrastructure projects in Maine, unlocking $11 million in matching funds.
  • That’s among a panoply of other cuts. Environmentalists have cited the proposed cut to the “brownfield” remediation program, which funds cleanups at old industrial sites contaminated by pollution, as a key area of concern. Elimination of arts funding would hit the Maine Arts Commission and Maine Public Broadcasting Network. The $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program — which has funded $500 million in projects in Maine cities and towns large and small as of 2013 — would also be eliminated.

The Republican president’s proposal won’t become law, but it’s an initial step before he submits a line-by-line plan in May. Congress often ignores this to pass continuing resolutions that have fueled government for years.

Only four budgets have passed on time since 1977 and the last was in 1997, so dysfunction is the norm. We’ll have more on the budget as things develop. — Michael Shepherd


Quick hits

  • A state board unanimously signed off on Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee to keep leading the Department of Education. The Board of Education’s effusive letter supporting the governor’s nomination of Acting Education Commissioner Robert Hasson to that permanent position led LePage to announce the nomination on Thursday. The governor announced his intent to nominate Hasson last month. His appointment is subject to approval by the Maine Senate after a confirmation hearing before the Legislature’s Education Committee. Hasson is expected to be confirmed easily and would be Maine’s first full-fledged education commissioner since 2014, when Jim Rier left the post. Since then, LePage has shifted acting commissioners in and out of the role. — Michael Shepherd
  • Chellie Pingree will host a town hall meeting on health care issues on Sunday. Up for discussion will be an upcoming U.S. House of Representatives vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with the American Health Care Act. On the panel with Pingree will be representatives from AARP, the Maine Medical Association, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Consumers for Affordable Health Care. The meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 4 p.m. Sunday in the King Middle School Cafeteria, 92 Deering Ave., in Portland. Registration for the limited-seating event begins at 3:30 p.m., or you can pre-register by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins
  • King wrote a letter to Trump that listed Maine-friendly trade priorities. They are negotiating smarter, more transparent trade agreements; strengthening trade enforcement capabilities; and supporting domestic industries. King laid out some specific action steps in the letter, which you can read by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

  • There will be legislative committee hearings throughout the day today. Up for testimony this morning in Veterans and Legal Affairs is a bill that would significantly alter the requirements for a citizen initiative. The current threshold for the number of signatures required is 10 percent of the voters in the most recent gubernatorial elections — which is now 61,123. The bill, proposed by Republican Rep. Garrel Craig of Brewer, would ask Maine voters to amend the Maine Constitution so that a citizen initiative would require at least 15 percent of the registered voters in each county. This bill is one of several changes to the citizen initiative process that are under consideration this year.
  • The transportation and marijuana implementation committees will hold public hearings on a range of bills — you can see the full docket here — but most of today’s action will be in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which had booked overflow rooms for a crowd expected to testify today on a range of bills involving guns. The committee will take comments on a total of 11 bills ranging from a bid to block the potential creation of a firearms owner registry in Maine to a requirement that gun sellers include a gun lock with every new firearm. We’ll keep you posted in the coming weeks about which of those bills make it out of committee. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list


Give me a beer, but it better not be green

I’m going to co-opt this section on St. Patrick’s Day to raise a proverbial glass to my grandfather, James T. Rositer, a second-generation son of Wexford who lived to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day 106 times, despite working in the newspaper industry for more than 60 years.

James T. Rositer (second from left in the back row) with colleagues at the Taunton Gazette.

He was born in 1890, the same year as Narragansett beer, a coincidence he honored by carrying a Gansett “church key” on his belt for most of his life. When he wasn’t using it to pop lids, it came in handy when he had to adjust the linotype machines he operated for more than six decades at newspapers in Taunton, Massachusetts.

Like any good Irishman, Jimmy could tell a good tale. He had a great one about how a fire engine tipped over after a dog barked. Seems the dog spooked the horses that pulled the engine after a certain Irish lad had lit a firecracker.

He used to turn down his hearing aid to sleep through Mass, swearing that his eyes were closed because he was praying. And he had a great story about the time during Prohibition when he used the “engine oil” he and a pal had brought with them on a fishing excursion to finagle their way into a clambake at the compound of a well-known Irish political family.

The saga of how he started working at newspapers also is a good one. After his mother grew ill and had to be institutionalized, he and his brother were largely on their own as children. His father left for work early and it was up to them to get to school. As Jimmy tells it, school did not have a lot of appeal, so he often skipped classes to embark on far more interesting adventures — such as stealing those new exotic fruits called bananas from the local grocer. When the grocer got wise and alerted his dad, Jimmy faced an ultimatum: Go to school or get a job.

The next day, he talked himself into a position setting linotype for the local newspaper. He did it for the next 60-plus years, only retiring when the company switched from hot lead to computers. He read better backwards than forwards — because you had to set the type in reverse — and took delight in showing his grandchildren that he had no fingerprints as a result of reaching into pools of acid to pull out the slugs.

That, he told us, could come in handy if the wee folk demanded a night of mischief. Here’s to you, Jimmy, and here’s your soundtrack. Happy St. Patrick’s Day. — Robert Long

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.