Paul LePage

David Warsh: As Maine goes....?

Downtown Portland.

Downtown Portland.



Maine has enjoyed a national reputation for bipartisanship and civility in its public life in the 75 years since World War II, sending, for example, Margaret Chase Smith (R), Edmund Muskie (D), George Mitchell (D), William Cohen (R), Olympia Snowe (R), Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I) to the U.S. Senate over the years. Its habit of electing governors in September, until they changed in 1957 to November elections, gave rise to the catch-phrase,  “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

But sure enough, for the past eight years Maine has been governed by a toxic former businessman who bears a strong political resemblance to Donald Trump. How did Gov. Paul LePage get elected?  He was the beneficiary of Maine voters’ famous independent streak.

LePage won the GOP nomination in the Tea Party year of 2010, with 38 of the primary vote.  Five months later he won the general election with 38 percent of all votes cast, defeating independent candidate Eliot Cutler by barely 7,500 votes. Cutler had been hoping to replace Gov. Angus King, who had served two terms as an independent. Democratic Party candidate Libby Mitchell trailed with 19 percent of the vote, while Republican Shawn Moody and unaffiliated Kevin Scott received 5 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

In 2014, LePage was re-elected, with 48 percent of the vote, defeating Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud, with 43 percent. This time Cutler claimed 8 percent of the vote.  Since the beginning of his incumbency there has been near-constant turmoil. At one point the governor seemed on the verge of impeachment.


Instead, voters organized a referendum to establish ranked-choice voting in state-wide elections, and passed it twice over determined opposition, affirming in a referendum earlier this month that the method will be used in future state primaries and all elections for federal offices. The Maine constitution must be amended if ranked-choice is to replace plurality voting in general elections in Maine.

Voters are accustomed to casting their ballots for a single candidate. The ranked-choice procedure asks voters to rank multiple candidates in the order they prefer them. If no candidate is ranked first by more than 50 percent of the voters, the candidate least-often ranked first is dropped and his or her next-best votes are reallocated to the others. The processes continues until a majority candidate emerges.

The process has been used in national elections in Australia for more than a century; the Academy of Motion Pictures employs it to insure against vote-splitting that might permit an unpopular choice for Best Motion Picture to slip through.  So do several municipalities, including Cambridge, Mass., and San Francisco.

Term limits mean LePage can’t run again. So earlier this month, auto-repair entrepreneur Shawn Moody, who first ran for governor in 2010, defeated three others in the Republican primary.  He received 54 percent of the vote, meaning that ranked choice was not an issue. All four candidates pledged to carry on LePage’s legacy of tax cuts and welfare stringency.  Meanwhile, two-term Atty. Gen. Janet Mills required four run-off rounds to defeat clean energy entrepreneur Adam Cote in the Democratic primary, 54 percent to 46 percent. Five other candidates were dropped from the totals.

We’ll have to wait until November to see what happens in Maine.  The Bangor Daily News noted last week that Maine voters appear slightly more enthusiastic about Trump than you might expect, and cautioned that November might not turn out to be a “wave” election. Republican Bruce Poliquin is running for a third term in Maine’s enormous interior congressional district, which in 2016 delivered its one electoral vote to Trump.

And with respect to the possibility of eventually adopting ranked-choice voting in presidential elections, Harvard economists Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen wrote in The New York Times earlier this month, the “interstate compacts” required to bundle votes in the Electoral College  get far ahead of the story. For now, they say, the focus on ranked-choice voting is in Maine

David Warsh, a long time economics and political columnist, is proprietor of, based in Somerville, Mass.


Maine fights 'Big Sugar'

The official name of the Food Stamp program.

The official name of the Food Stamp program.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

Maine deserves a lot of credit for seeking to improve the health of low-income people on Food Stamps while trying to cut the cost of the state-federal program in the Pine Tree State. (The federal government pays 100 percent of Food Stamp benefits  but shares administrative costs with the state.)

The state wants to ban the purchase with Food Stamps of candy and soda. New York, Illinois and Minnesota  have also sought approval from the U.S. Agriculture for similar bans.

Sadly, as anyone who watched checkout lines in supermarkets can confirm, many people buy lots of candy, soda and other junk food with Food Stamps. But consuming candy and soda, whatever the quick pleasure they provide, do far more harm than good, among other things in raising the incidence of obesity and diabetes, which are epidemic in America, where poor people tend to be fatter than more prosperous ones. The science is clear.

When Food Stamp recipients get sick because of their over-consumption of this junk, the taxpayers must pay for much of the cost of their care through Medicaid.

As Maine Gov. Paul LePage (a Tea Party Republican!), said the other week: “The time has come to stand up to Big Sugar and ensure our federal dollars are supporting healthy food choices for our neediest people.’’

Seems very fair and reasonable.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Food Stamp program, has rejected Maine’s request, using  such vague excuses as concerns about administrative costs for retailers and the alleged difficulty of deciding on which products to take off the Food Stamp list. But seems to me that these problems, especially in the computer age, can be very easily overcome. And again, the science on the effects of consuming large quantities of candy and soda are clear.

I suspect that the USDA’s opposition to Governor LePage’s proposal reflects the Trump administration’s disinclination to displease the powerful U.S. sugar lobby, based in swing state Florida, and other players in the junk-food world.


Isaiah J. Poole: In Maine, fighting racism where many white workers also hurt

Since 2011, Maine’s bombastic Republican Gov. Paul LePage has given America a taste of what it might be like to live under a Donald Trump presidency.

Like Trump, LePage has made outrageous comments against immigrants and communities of color. They include telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” publicly complaining about “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” selling drugs and impregnating “young, white” girls, and blaming “illegals” for spreading diseases like HIV — all while cutting funding to cities that offered health care and other assistance to undocumented immigrants.

After five years of LePage practicing an extreme form of wedge politics, people like Ben Chin are working to heal the resulting divisions in Maine.

Chin, the 31-year-old grandson of an undocumented Chinese immigrant, has been working with the Maine People’s Alliance to rally support from white working class neighborhoods for a series of progressive ballot measures this November.

Countering the racist and nativist appeals of candidates like LePage and Trump, their goal is to get people to reject the politics of scapegoating immigrants and people of color and to instead focus on the real causes of — and solutions to — their economic distress.

“We’re starting out a conversation in which we’re making it clear we’re on their side,” Chin said in a recent phone interview. “That’s the foundation that gets laid for whatever comes next.”

These conversations are based on the research and experience of a broad range of grassroots organizations that have been struggling to get working-class white voters across the nation to see beyond the color line.

Chin got a personal taste of division politics when he was racially caricatured during his 2015 run for mayor of Lewiston, Maine. During his campaign, a local businessman paid for billboards that said, “Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin. Vote for more jobs not more welfare.”

Since then, Chin’s turned his political focus to ballot initiatives that include increasing the state’s minimum wage and levying a 3 percent tax on household incomes over $200,000 a year.

Chin and his fellow Maine People’s Alliance members don’t have a “silver bullet” set of talking points that disarms the people they encounter with racist or anti-immigrant attitudes. Instead, they focus on questions that get people to think about their economic anxieties in a deeper way.

One question they ask is, “Why do you think some people are poor and other people are rich?”

That opens up a discussion about the ways a small group of the wealthy and powerful are stacking the economic deck against ordinary people of all colors, with their black and brown neighbors feeling it the most because of America’s history of systemic racism.

Chin said he was particularly struck by a recent conversation with a voter in Auburn, Maine. The voter was undecided about whether to support a referendum that would increase the state’s wage to $12 an hour by 2020.

“One of his ideas was that ‘certain people’ were going to get a wage increase,” Chin said. “We tried to unpack that.”

They talked about his life experiences and whether he really believed that increasing the minimum wage was about helping some “certain” group of undeserving freeloaders.

Chin said that though this voter wasn’t a “raging justice activist” by the end of their conversation, he was more thoughtfully considering the minimum wage.

Conversations like these are happening in many states around the country this election season, as progressives grapple with the mainstreaming of racist and nativist appeals by Trump and other far-right politicians.

These types of empathetic conversations are the nemesis of the conservative-corporate elite who have engineered extreme wealth inequality and, for too many, the disappearance of the American dream.

The last thing  that politicians who benefit from wedge politics want to see is working people across the nation transcending racial and cultural lines, and realizing those same politicians are the common source of their pain.

Isaiah J. Poole is the communications director at People’s Action ( Distributed by 

LePage eyes big 'nonprofits' for property-tax revenue


"Misty Morning, Coast of Maine,'' by ARTHUR PARTON.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage can sometimes sound like a lunatic. The most amusing example of this might be his ouster of a mural depicting the Pine Tree State's labor history from the state Department of Labor's building in Augusta.  He doesn't like unions!

It bears noting, by the way, that both times he's been elected governor he received a minority of votes but won anyway because his Democratic and independent foes split the relatively liberal vote, thus electing Mr. LePage, a Tea Party Republican, governor of a state that generally leans slightly left.

It's an interesting state socio-economically: some strips of wealth (especially in the summer) along the immediate coast from the New Hampshire line to Mt. Desert  Island and pockets of affluence in a couple of towns on the eastern edge of the White Mountains but generally a lot of poverty inland and in northern Maine. Sort of an Arctic Appalachia  set off from the cold-water Riviera of such plush towns as Camden and York and Bar Harbor.

However, the sometimes fiery Mr. LePage is   on to something right in proposing to end the property-tax exemption of some big nonprofits.

The fact is that many big "nonprofits'' are hugely profitable for  their senior executives, who pay themselves more than  they'd earn in many equivalent positions  of responsibility in the for-profit sector.

Rather than paying out profit to shareholders in dividends and capital gains, the organizations enrich the "nonprofit'' execs with  fat, always inflation-proof pay and Cadillac "fringe'' benefits virtually unseen in the officially "for-profit'' sector.

Some of these big ''nonprofits'' can also be goldmines for members of their boards who use them to make and maintain business deals and even directly steer money to their enterprises.

Some big "nonprofits'' endlessly expand their administrative staffs into vast populations of vice presidents, etc., as part of the CEO's empire building. (A few years ago I was approached to work  as an executive for a large, rich "nonprofit''. I was astonished at the overstaffing of administrators, the endless time burned up  in meetings, the geological time taken to make even a minor decision. I'm more used to the much harsher and more decisive world of  regular business, which, if anything, has become even more "heartless'' in the past 30 years.)

Most nonprofits, of course, are just scraping along. I have served on the boards of a few of these and  hugely admire the work they do to keep their civic missions going, though they're probably are too many nonprofits. Lots of cannibalization of charitable money going on.

Rather, I'm talking  here about some some big ones, especially in education and healthcare.

In any event, far too many citizens forget that when an outfit has ''nonprofit'' status or a sexy company gets a sweetheart tax break because a public official wants to take credit for the company's (usual broken) promise of new jobs,  and get into a photo op, that others must make up the lost tax revenue to pay for the  better schools, roads, bridges, health inspectors and so on that we all need.

All hail Governor LePage for raising this issue.

John O. Harney/Carolyn Morwick: Taking stock of N.E. mid-terms

  This comes courtesy of our friends at the New England Board of Higher Education.


The recent midterm elections brought New England two new governors. Rhode Island elected its first woman chief exec in Gina Raimondo (D). Massachusetts elected Charlie Baker (R), a former Harvard Pilgrim CEO and official in the Weld and Cellucci administrations. Otherwise, the New England corner offices cautiously welcomed back incumbents: Democrats Dannel Malloy in Connecticut, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire and Peter Shumlin in Vermont, and Republican Paul LePage in Maine.

In higher education, a national pickup in Republican governorships and legislative chambers “will result in lawmakers placing an enhanced focus on state-provided inputs (funding) and the institutionally generated outcomes of public colleges and universities (degree production, graduation rates, etc.),” according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). “Fiscally conservative lawmakers will ask what the state is receiving back from its investment in higher education, and how students, graduates and employers are benefitting in the process. Performance-based funding and other metric-driven accountability systems will receive continued attention.”

The national newspaper Education Week offered a poppier rundown of the midterms and education policy, noting for example, that "the teacher unions had a really tough night," and "Arne Duncan and the Obama team at the U.S. Department of Education are in for a rough ride."

Ultimately, New England's winners may envy their vanquished opponents who will be spared the tasks of governing in an age of sneaky budget gaps, job market mismatches, an aging population and growing uncertainty in the region’s once-untouchable industries: the so-called “eds and meds.”

Connecticut. Connecticut voters re-elected Malloy over Republican Tom Foley in a rerun of the 2010 election. Nancy Wyman (D) was re-elected lieutenant governor. Before becoming governor, Malloy was mayor of Stamford for 14 years—the longest serving mayor in the city’s history. Before that, he was assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, New York.

In the Connecticut General Assembly, the House and Senate stayed Democratic, although Republicans picked up 10 seats in the House. Senate President Don Williams retired and joined Connecticut’s largest teachers union. Current Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney is expected to succeed Williams as Senate president. In the House, Speaker Brendan Sharkey was re-elected for another term, For the first time, GOP lawmakers chose a woman to be minority leader with Rep. Themis Klarides replacing former Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, who did not seek re-election.

Following his reelection, Malloy ordered nearly $48 million in emergency budget cuts, including about $7 million to public colleges and universities to help close a projected $100 million deficit.

In his first term as governor, Malloy reorganized the public higher-education system, making massive cuts to the system. He subsequently restored most of the cuts to the system’s state universities and community colleges by funding Transform CSCU for more than $125 million, which was later cut.

Malloy also succeeded in passing additional initiatives in his first term, including "Go Back to Get Ahead,'' a program designed to help students who left college without finishing their degree, to return to the classroom. In an effort to make higher education accessible to all Connecticut residents, the state was among the first to pass a version of the DREAM Act, which provides that undocumented students will have access to an affordable higher education.

Malloy also secured $1.5 billion to expand educational opportunities, research and innovation in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines over the next decade at the University of Connecticut. He received the support of state lawmakers to subsidize a genomic medical research institute on the campus of the UConn’s Health Center. The institute, which recently opened, will be operated by the Bar Harbor, Maine-based Jackson Laboratory to transform medicine by improving healthcare, lowering costs and increasing lifespans. The partnership between Jackson Laboratory and UConn’s Health Center and the research institute is the basis for a statewide plan to build a bioscience industry cluster. Malloy has predicted that the bioscience cluster will create some 4,000 bioscience jobs alone while spinning off 2,000 more jobs in related fields.

Malloy has been a strong supporter of precision manufacturing vocational programs at three community colleges to better equip workers and businesses for success in the manufacturing industry.

To reduce student debt, he has proposed creating a student loan tax credit to allow residents to take up to a $2,500 tax credit on student loan interest, allowing students to refinance student loans at lower rates and increasing the Governor’s Scholarship Program to give high-achieving students additional student aid.

Voters made no changes in Connecticut’s congressional delegation.

Maine. Maine voters reelected LePage to a second term. LePage, the former mayor of Waterville, Maine, and a former member of the Waterville City Council, also worked as general manager of a discount store, Marden’s Surplus and Salvage.

Asked at a debate about deep cuts at the University of Southern Maine, LePage said the University of Maine System “needs to reinvent itself.” He suggested looking at the University of Maine at Fort Kent for its outreach to high-school students as a model. He also said he thinks the state’s community colleges should focus on trades as opposed to liberal arts.

On student debt, LePage has expressed interest in the “Pay it Forward” model which originated in the state of Oregon. However, the plan has never been implemented in Oregon due to a lack of funding. On remedial education, LePage noted that 55 percent of students who enter community colleges need remedial education in math and English. He supports a proficiency-based diploma.

LePage’s midterm challenger, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D), proposed “Maine Made” which would build Maine’s economy partly by making the sophomore year at any school in the University of Maine system tuition-free. It would cost $15 million a year, which Michaud suggested, would help address the college debt issue. He also proposed lowering in-state tuition by 25 percent.

Challenger Eliot Cutler, an Independent candidate for governor, proposed a “Pay it Forward, Pay it Back” plan. Students would attend a public two-year or four-year college tuition-free and pay a small portion of their income for approximately 20 years into a state fund. The state would have to borrow money initially but eventually, the plan would become self-sustaining.

Democrats maintain control of the Maine House of Representatives while Republicans control the Senate. Maine is the only state where the Legislature elects the constitutional officers of attorney general, secretary of state and the treasurer (though a rejected 2013 bill called for the statewide election of the secretary of state and treasurer every two years and the attorney general every four years). Legislators elected former state Rep. Terry Hayes, a Democrat-turned independent, state treasurer. Democrats re-elected Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and Atty. Gen. Janet Mills.

Michaud’s old Maine 2nd district congressional seat will now be held by Bruce Poliquin (R), who defeated New England Board of Higher Education chairwoman, and former state  senator,  Emily Cain (D). Poliquin will serve on the House Financial Services Committee.

Massachusetts. Bay State voters elected Baker (R) to be governor over Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley (D) in the narrowest race for Massachusetts governor in the past half century.

Baker appointed Steven Kadish to be his chief of staff. Kadish was senior vice president and chief operating officer of Northeastern University and executive vice president and chief financial officer at Dartmouth College.

Karyn Polito (R) was elected lieutenant governor and ran Baker’s transition team. Baker also appointed education reformer and charter school advocate Jim Peyser to lead his transition team. Peyser is managing director of New Schools City Funds in Boston and former chair of the state Board of Education. Baker appointed University of Massachusetts Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan and Phoenix Charter Academy Network founder Beth Anderson to chair the transition committee on schools.

Baker wants to pursue more online learning, three-year degree programs and expanded co-op programs as part of a larger plan to reduce the cost of higher education while increasing access for students. He said he would direct the state Board of Higher Education to establish a competitive grant program for public colleges and high schools to set up or expand co-op programs where students can earn academic credits through courses and work experiences with local employers which he says would produce a cost savings of 25 percent.

Less than a month after the election, The Boston Globe called on Baker to “not only protect the Commonwealth’s competitive advantage in tech, but address regulatory roadblocks and cultural issues that could limit the sector’s future job-creation potential.”

Baker will succeed two-term Gov. Deval Patrick, who did not run, and according to reports in the Globe, is considering an offer to be a scholar at MIT. (The path from New England governors'  offices to academia is well-worn by Michael Dukakis (Mass.), Walter Peterson (N.H.), Bruce Sundlun (R.I.)  and others.)

In another highlight of the Massachusetts gubernatorial race, Evan Falchuk, who ran as the United Independent Party candidate, earned nearly 72,000 votes—more than the 3 percent needed to be recognized as an official party in terms of election and fundraising laws.

In the Massachusetts legislature, Democrats continue to control the House and Senate. Republicans added seven new lawmakers in the House, increasing the number of Republicans to 34. The Massachusetts Senate added two Republicans, increasing their ranks to six. Senators will elect a new chamber president to replace Sen. Therese Murray (D) who did not seek re-election. The favorite is Sen. Stan Rosenberg (D), whose district includes the college-rich Pioneer Valley.

Massachusetts 6th congressional District will now be represented by Seth Moulton (D), replacing fellow Democrat John Tierney who served for 18 years, including a stretch as New England’s only member of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

New Hampshire. Granite State voters re-elected Hassan for a second term. Hassan’s late father, Robert C. Wood, was a president of UMass and U.S. secretary of housing and urban development. Her husband is the principal of Phillips Exeter Academy. She will face the challenge of working with a legislature controlled by Republicans. The House elected Shawn Jasper as speaker. A coalition of Democrats and Republicans came together to reject the choice of the Republican caucus, former speaker Will O’Brien after a series of votes.

When the legislative session gets underway in January, Hassan will face an uphill climb in funding public higher education. Funding for the University System of New Hampshire was cut by 50 percent in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. In September 2014, University System Trustees voted unanimously to submit a funding request to the governor and state legislators that restores state support to 2009 levels. In exchange, the System would freeze tuition for two more years. The system is requesting $100 million in 2016 and $105 million in 2017.

Hassan also restored funding to the New Hampshire Community Colleges, which allowed tuition to be cut by 5 percent. Hassan said the state needs to focus on keeping New Hampshire students in the state in the face of students opting for less expensive higher education options out-of-state.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen defeated challenger Scott Brown, who had earlier beat Coakley to represent Massachusetts in the Senate, but then lost to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D). New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district will be represented by Frank Guinta (R), who defeated incumbent Carol Shea-Porter (D).

Rhode Island. Former State Treasurer Raimondo was elected to be the state’s first woman governor. A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Raimondo clerked for U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood and served as senior vice president of fund development at Village Ventures before co-founding Point Judith Capita. In 2010, she was elected general treasurer of Rhode Island, where she implemented comprehensive pension reform.

During the campaign, Raimondo proposed:

  • Creating a new scholarship fund for any academically qualified student who lacks financial resources and wants to pursue a post-secondary degree at one of Rhode Island’s public colleges. To be eligible, a student must have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. The scholarship would cover all tuition and fee expenses after all other financial aid is applied. The scholarship fund is based on The Tennessee Promise, which offers “last dollar” scholarships that are intended to bridge the gap after all financial resources are exhausted. The cost is estimated to be between $10 million and $15 million a year. The new funds would come from the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority’s reserves.
  • Creating a loan-forgiveness program for Rhode Island students who have graduated from one of the state’s colleges or universities with student debt and continue to live in the state. Business will have access to a talent pool in exchange for paying off some of the students' debt. The program is based on New Hampshire’s “Stay Work Play” initiative.
  • Opening an office at the Community College of Rhode (CCRI) dedicated to bringing businesses to the table to identify the needs of employers and design curricula that reflect those needs, while equipping the college with programs, equipment and facilities needed to put students on a pathway to a job in a high-demand industry.
  • Doubling the graduation rate at CCRI by working with administrators, counselors and educators to identify why the school’s graduation rate is so low. A model initiative to accomplish the latter is the Accelerated Study in Associates Programs (ASAP) at the City University of New York (CUNY).

Raimondo has also proposed establishing an innovation institute that would translate ideas from Rhode Island colleges and universities into products manufactured in the state.

Daniel McKee (D) was elected lieutenant governor, succeeding  Elizabeth Roberts (D), who was term-limited. In the Rhode Island General Assembly, Democrats maintain control of the House and Senate. Republicans picked up six seats in the House, while the Senate remained unchanged.

Vermont. While Shumlin won the governor's race over Republican Scott Milne, he did not receive 50 percent of the vote. The Vermont constitution provides that in such instances where no candidate achieves 50 percent the election is decided by the Vermont General Assembly, which is overwhelmingly Democratic. The formal election of governor will be the first order of business as lawmakers begin a new session.

Lawmakers and the governor will have to tackle an unanticipated shortfall of $17 million. This follows a previous shortfall during the past summer of $31 million. State agencies will have to reduce their budgets by an additional $15.5 million. Revenues are off by approximately $12 million, according to Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding, who coincidentally was tapped to become the next chancellor of Vermont State Colleges (VSC).

There is little doubt that Shumlin will have to rework his agenda for the coming year. In higher education, the governor initially proposed a $2.5 million increase in the allocation to the University of Vermont, VSC and the Vermont Student Assistance Corp—a move which would have kept tuition rates at Vermont public institutions frozen for the current academic year and expanded of dual-enrollment and early-college programs. However, in August of this year, the funding increase was eliminated due to a budget shortfall, and appropriations for VSC and UVM will be level-funded.

Plans to address student debt are likely to be put on hold. Previously, Shumlin suggested the possibility of students getting two tuition free years of college. The savings would come from two areas: college dual enrollment and a scholars program that provides for reimbursement of tuition for students going into STEM fields.

Ballot questions. Among New England ballot questions, Massachusetts voters chose not to repeal the casino law. They also approved guaranteed paid sick days for workers, echoing national election trends that saw large Republican wins coupled awkwardly with victories for populist causes such as minimum wage hikes.

Rhode Island voters OK’d bond issues for a new engineering building at URI, while Maine voters OK’d $50 million in state borrowing included in six bond questions—one to build a research facility devoted to research on genetic solutions to cancer and age-related diseases. LePage, however, has delayed release of voter-approved bonds in the past.

In D.C.: Nationally, Republicans won a majority in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former governor of Tennessee and U.S. secretary of education in the George H. W. Bush administration, is expected to chair the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Rep. John Kline (R-MN) is expected to continue chairing the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. He has proposed reducing the number of questions on the FAFSA to two and prioritizing deregulation of higher education. Republicans are likely to fight the administration’s plans to create a “college ratings system” and use a “gainful employment rule” to target the for-profit sector.

The Education Dive newsletter recently posted a piece on "10 ways a Republican-led Congress could impact higher ed in 2015."

The National Association of State Boards of Education offered a state-by-state analysis of changes in membership of state boards of education, noting, among other things, Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s August announcement that he wouldn’t seek a second term.

The messaging and spinning is partly done. The fat lady has sung. Now it's time to govern.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education. Carolyn Morwick handles government and community relations at the New England Board of Higher Education and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures.

Carolyn Morwick: Record gubernatorial vetoes in Maine

  This is from one in a series of reports on New England states' legislative sessions as reported by the New England Board of Higher Education.

Maine lawmakers on April 16 finished the second session of the 126th Maine Legislature. The session was marked by a record number of vetoes by Gov. Paul LePage, who in many instances broke with his own party in rejecting legislation. Lawmakers returned on May 1 to take up 48 vetoes cast by the governor. They sustained 33 of the 48 vetoes, and overrode 15. Many of the bills vetoed by the governor were supported by both chambers of the Legislature, but failed to get a two/thirds required to override.

In the first session, lawmakers had repeatedly tried to pass a bill to extend Medicaid benefits to 70,000 low-income Maine residents. In the second session, three bills to extend coverage to Mainers were vetoed by the governor. A compromise included an attempt to reduce the waitlist for service in Medicaid and added two new fraud investigators in the attorney general’s office. It also would have allowed the state to contract with private companies to operate a managed-care program and to withdraw from the expansion after three years. In the first year, the federal government would reimburse states 100%, which would be reduced to 90% or more after three years.

That Medicaid expansion bill received a majority in both chambers, but failed to get the two-thirds required to override LePage’s veto.


Lawmakers passed several bills to address shortfalls in the state budget, including LD 1843, a supplemental appropriations bill to close a $40 million shortfall in the FY14. The measure became law without the governor’s signature.

In other budget action, lawmakers took issue with LePage’s veto of $32 million to address a gap in the FY15 budget. The Senate voted unanimously to override the governor’s veto, while the House took similar action to override by a 133-to-8 margin.

The budget:

addresses a shortfall in the MaineCare program ($17 million) increases reimbursement rates for nursing homes ($5 million) provides home care services for the developmentally disabled ($5 million) provides additional funding for Riverview Psychiatric Center and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center invests in key education and workforce training programs including $650,000 for the Bridge Year program, $300,000 for Maine’s Graduates and $750,000 for Head Start programs. Revenue Funds Passed

Despite objections from LePage, lawmakers passed LD 1762, which prevents $40 million in cuts to revenue-sharing funds for municipalities. The bill became law without LePage’s signature. It provides that money will come, in part. from the state’s “rainy day fund.” Later, the governor submitted a bill to restore $21 million to the rainy day fund, which legislators approved.

Bond Package Passed

In an effort to jumpstart jobs, lawmakers passed a $50 million bond package, which will invest in Maine’s economy and infrastructure. Democrats and Republicans approved six initiatives by a two-thirds margin in each chamber. One of the bonds aims to fund $12 million for recapitalization of the Regional Economic Development Loan Program and the Commercial Loan Insurance Programs that help small businesses who are on the verge of creating jobs to have access to capital. An $8 million bond for the University of Maine Cooperative Extensive Program would assist farmers and foresters.

The remaining four bonds would be awarded on a competitive basis:

$10 million to expand research capabilities in developing cancer cures; $3 million for Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory to modernize tissue repair and regeneration; $7 million to create jobs in the marine economy and increase the sector’s capacity and sustainability; and $10 million for clean drinking water infrastructure projects. The bonds go to the governor for his signature and, if approved. would go on the ballot in November for voters to approve.

Higher Education Legislation Passed

Resolve, To Establish the Commission To Study College Affordability and College Completion

Establishes the Commission To Study College Affordability and College Completion. The commission is directed to examine and make recommendations on the development of strategies to keep the cost of public postsecondary education in the State affordable and to increase the graduation rate of students enrolled in state-supported public institutions of higher education. The commission is required to submit a report by Dec. 9, 2014 to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over education matters. The report submitted by the commission must include findings, recommendations and any necessary implementing legislation to keep the cost of public postsecondary education in the State affordable and to increase the graduation rate of students enrolled in state-supported public institutions of higher education. The joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over education and cultural affairs may submit a bill related to this report to the First Regular Session of the 127th Legislature.

An Act To Facilitate Informed Planning for Higher Education and Careers

Establishes the State Education and Employment Outcomes Commission to develop procedures to maintain and disseminate information and data on education results, program completion, graduation, credentials earned, loans and loan defaults and costs as well as employment and earnings for graduates of postsecondary educational institutions in the State. Also establishes the Education and Outcomes Technical and Data Working Group to make recommendations to the commission regarding the use of the Department of Labor’s educational outcome database, the duties of the commission regarding a website jointly hosted by the departments of Labor and Education and integration of the information on this website for the state’s secondary schools, funding methods for the database and additional data for inclusion in the database.

An Act to Allow All Veterans to be Eligible for In-state Tuition Rates

A current member or veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces who has been honorably discharged and is enrolled in a program of education at any campus of the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System or the Maine Maritime Academy, is eligible for in-state tuition rates, regardless of the member's or veteran's state of residence.

An Act To Improve Degree and Career Attainment for Former Foster Children

Allows former foster children to receive guidance and financial help with higher education expenses averaging $5,000 a year until their 27th birthdays. At present, Maine provides no support or guidance beyond age 20. The bill leverages one private foundation dollar for every two public dollars and would support up to 40 young Mainers at a given time.

Pre-K-to-12 Legislation

Resolve, To Create the Task Force To End Student Hunger in Maine

Creates a task force to study issues associated with the creation of a public-private partnership to provide expertise to school administrative units throughout the state in adopting best practices and maximizing available federal funds for addressing student hunger by using:

1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, National School Lunch Program;

2. U.S. Department of Agriculture Child and Adult Care Food Program, At-Risk Afterschool Meals;

3. U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program; and

4. The four privately funded hunger coordinators positioned in the Healthy Maine Partnerships districts to encourage the use of school food programs.

The task force shall draft a three- to five-year plan outlining a ramp-up of school-food programs throughout the state, and the Legislative Council shall provide necessary staffing services to the task force to submit a report that includes its suggested legislation and actions that can be taken immediately by the first regular session of the 127th Legislature.

An Act to Establish a Process for the Implementation of Universal Voluntary Pre-K Education

Provides a framework for the implementation of universal voluntary pre-kindergarten education to all school districts in Maine by the 2017-18 school year. It would utilize the network of public schools and local community providers. Also changes the compulsory age of school attendance from the age 7 to age 5. Became law without the governor’s signature

Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Chapter 180: Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth Systems, a Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Education

This resolution provides for legislative review of Chapter 180: Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth Systems, a major substantive rule of the Department of Education. It removes the provision that at least 20% of teachers’ evaluation be based on test scores. It leaves the task of coming up with a percentage to school district stakeholders groups. It was supported by the Maine School Superintendents Association, the Maine School Board Association, the Maine Principals Association and the Maine Education Association. Legislature overturned governor’s veto

An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Report Defining Cost Responsibility for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students Receiving Services from the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf

Submitted by the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, the bill provides that, beginning with the 2015-16 school year:

1. The school administrative unit in which a deaf or hard-of-hearing student resides is responsible for providing a free, appropriate public education to a student placed in a center school program or in one of the satellite school programs operated by the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf;

2. The individualized education program team for the school administrative unit in which a deaf or hard-of-hearing student resides is responsible for the placement decision of the student and, when the center school or one of the satellite school programs is being considered as a placement for the student, must invite a representative of the center school or the satellite school to attend the individualized education program team meeting at which this placement is being considered;

3. The school administrative unit in which the student resides must pay the sums necessary to ensure that services required to meet the individualized education program are provided, including tuition, transportation services and other related services as defined by the Maine Revised Statutes or in one of the designated satellite school programs; and

4. The School Board of the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf must pay the room and board costs for each student placed in a residential program in the center school or in one of the satellite school programs through funds appropriated by the state.

Other Laws Passed

An Act To Support Community Health Centers through Tax Credits for Dentists and Primary Care Professionals Practicing in Underserved Areas

Extends the existing dental care access tax credit by requiring the Maine Department of Health and Human Services oral health program to certify up to five eligible dentists who have unpaid student loans and practice full-time in underserved areas for at least five years. Legislature overturned governor’s veto.

An Act To Protect Maine Food Consumers' Right To Know about Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock

Maine becomes the second state to approve legislation to require disclosure of genetic engineering at the point of retail sale of food and seed stock. It provides that food or seed stock for which the disclosure is not made is considered to be misbranded and subject to the sanctions for misbranding. The bill further provides that food or seed stock may not be labeled as natural if it has been genetically engineered. The bill exempts products produced without knowledge that the products, or items used in their production, were genetically engineered; animal products derived from an animal that was not genetically engineered but was fed genetically engineered food; and products with only a minimum content produced by genetic engineering. The bill also provides that the disclosure requirements do not apply to restaurants, alcoholic beverages or medical food. The disclosure provisions are administered by the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

An Act To Prohibit Motorized Recreational Gold Prospecting in Certain Atlantic Salmon and Brook Trout Spawning Habitats

Protects waterways that contain brook trout and Atlantic salmon spawning habitats by banning motorized gold prospecting. Legislature overturned governor’s veto

An Act To Increase the Period of Time for the Calculation of a Prior Conviction for Operating under the Influence

Prior to this legislation, offenses older than 10 years were not taken into account. This legislation would include the driver’s entire record for felony offenses. Legislature overturned governor’s veto

An Act to Provide Property Tax Relief to Maine Residents

Creates the Property Tax Fairness Fund to provide a mechanism for increasing the cap on the tax credit available to low-income and senior citizens under the property tax fairness credit. Currently, the cap on the credit is $300 for eligible residents under 70 years of age and $400 for eligible residents 70 years of age and older.

An Act To Restore Funding in the Maine Budget Stabilization Fund through Alternative Sources

Restores approximately $20 million to the state’s rainy day fund. This will provide revenue sharing to Maine cities and towns.

Legislation That Failed

An Act Regarding the Issuance of a Permit To Carry a Concealed Handgun

Limits municipalities' ability to issue permits to carry concealed handguns to only those with full-time police chiefs. It would also ensure that state police manage all background and mental health checks and create a confidential centralized database of permit holders.

An Act to Improve Maine’s Tax Laws

Requires corporations that file unitary income tax returns in Maine to include income from certain jurisdictions outside the U.S> in net income when apportioning income among tax jurisdictions. Purports to increase revenue by $5 million. Amends the law to reduce the use of so-called off-shore tax havens, thus reducing the loss of revenue to the state and establishes a task force to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the biennial report of tax expenditures prepared by the Department of Administrative and Financial Services pursuant to Maine Revised Statutes. The task force shall identify any tax expenditures that may be reduced or eliminated with the goal of achieving a targeted savings of $30 million in FY 2014-15.

An Act To Provide Fiscal Predictability to the MaineCare Program and Health Security to Maine People

Establishes managed care in the MaineCare program and includes requirements for managed care plans and for contracting by the state Department of Health and Human Services for managed care services. The bill specifies how MaineCare members enroll in managed-care plans. The bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services to apply for approval of a Medicaid state plan amendment to allow use of MaineCare funds to purchase available employer-sponsored health coverage and delays implementation of that provision until approval has been granted.

Carolyn Morwick handles government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures.