LePage moves to extend endangered jobs program but will Democrats back it?

Good morning from Augusta, where controversy around a tense issue for the Legislature in 2018 might have been diffused, or at least put off for five years.

The Pine Tree Development Zone program will end in 2018 unless it is extended or altered. The program was implemented in 2003 under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci to spur economic development in Maine by giving 10 years of tax, energy and insurance breaks to businesses that promise to create at least one job with good pay and benefits. The original legislation included a sunset provision at the end of this year.

The program has been a growing source of friction in the Legislature. Critics say that because the program at times has included all of Maine, it doesn’t give rural areas the intended boost. It currently includes the entire state except for Cumberland and York Counties, though some specific municipalities in those counties have been added. Another problem for some is that the state is unable to quantify the number of new jobs it’s responsible for. Adding to the heightened focus on the issue is that the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee is in the midst of a probe into Pine Tree Zones and a number of other tax expenditure programs with the intention of determining their worth.

The LePage administration wants to extend the program for five years. During the special legislative session in October, the Legislature quietly moved a bill to committee that would do just that. However, expect Democrats to balk or try to add new report-back requirements. The House chair of the Taxation Committee, Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, and Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio, D-Sanford, who chairs the oversight committee, are among the leaders on that effort, though a bill sponsored by Mastraccio containing some reforms was rejected from consideration recently by the Legislative Council. Meanwhile, the DECD extension bill — which does have some Democratic support, including being sponsored for the department by Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash — is scheduled for a public hearing Jan. 11.

This is a weedy issue but should be an interesting debate over how much the state should invest in economic development, and how. We’ll keep you posted.

Rubio repays Fredette with gubernatorial endorsement

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio gave an early endorsement in the Maine gubernatorial race on Wednesday. The Republican backed House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, in a tweet, saying “you won’t find a stronger nominee who stands for conservative values.” The endorsement from Rubio is no surprise, since Fredette chaired Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign in Maine, where he failed to win any delegates in the Republican caucuses.

Reading list

  • Maine’s political leaders spent another year arguing with each other. Partisan gridlock led to the first state government shutdown since 1991 and threw voter-supported citizen initiatives into legal or legislative limbo. With 25 people already lined up to run for governor in 2018 and anger rippling through most layers of government, there’s no sign of harmony on the horizon.
  • Meth lab busts in Maine have been far less prevalent this year than in the recent past. As of Tuesday, the state’s drug enforcement agents had recorded 56 incidents related to meth production, down from 127 the previous year. But they warn that the decrease could result, in part, from more importation of the illegal drug.
  • Requests for Nazi tattoos at a Rockland-based tattoo shop are increasing. However, Siren Song Tattoo has taken a public stand that it won’t create Nazi or white supremacist-related tattoos. The owner of the shop says she received half a dozen requests in 2017, which was more than in her entire career.
  • The number of people charged with embezzlement in Maine has jumped 46 percent over the past two years. A fraud expert said part of the increase might be because of increased willingness to prosecute, though the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimates that a typical organization loses up to 5 percent of its revenues each year to embezzlement.

A hard day’s knight

Well, it’s about time. Queen Elizabeth II will finally make Ringo Starr a knight during the realm’s annual New Year’s Honours, according to The Telegraph (h/t for the headline pun).

The 77-year-old drummer’s honor comes more than two decades after the other living Beatle, Paul McCartney, became Sir Paul in 1997 and 52 years after the queen made Ringo a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

It seems long overdue. Maybe this is Her Majesty’s fey way to show appreciation for a guy who gained fame by mostly counting and waiting. That’s all drummers do, right?

The soon-to-be Sir Ringo will be knighted for “for services to music and charity.” I can’t believe Buckingham Palace failed to recognize his skills as a film director and actor in “Caveman.” Or for casting a former No. 1 pick in the NFL draft as a dinosaur trainer.

Obviously, what tipped the scales in Ringo’s favor was his 2016 concert in Bangor. All it took was a night in the Queen City to make him a knight. Here’s Ringo’s soundtrack. And here’s one to listen to while waiting for Mr. Starr to become Sir Ringo. — Robert Long

Programming note

The Maine Legislature comes back on Jan. 3, so we need to spend all the time between now and then spiffing up the office and washing out the dusty — furry? — coffee mugs. Daily Brief will return to its regular weekday schedule on Tuesday, Jan. 2. Happy New Year’s Day.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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.