Tuesday February 04, 2014 | 10:28 PM

Colleague Eric Russell has the spot coverage of Gov. Paul LePage's State of the State address. We'll have more analysis of the speech later, but here's some quick observations:

* Striking difference between this year's speech and last year's speech. Last year the governor seemed to alternate between conciliatory remarks toward Democratic lawmakers and challenging them. Not so much of that this year.

In 2013: "We must put ideologies aside and get to work to make Maine a competitive and prosperous state."

In 2014: “Liberal politicians are taking us down a dangerous path – a path that is unsustainable."

* First thought on LePage's "Open for Business Zones": Pine Tree Development Zones on steroids. Apparently, someone on the governor's staff had a similar assessment

* Interesting thing about Pine Tree Development Zones, which offer tax breaks and other incentives for companies that move or expand here: Republicans didn't always like them. In 2006, PTDZs were actually a campaign issue against Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who supported PTZDs and expanded the program. In 2006, David Emory, LePage's former deputy finance chief, told the Portland Press Herald that PTZDs were "a gimmick." In that same story, Republican candidate Peter Mills said non-PTZD Mainers ended up subsidizing those fortunate enough to have the political pull to earn the designation.

"It makes everybody else pay higher taxes while a select few pay less," Mills said at the time.

* LePage said businesses must invest $50 million and create 1,500 jobs to qualify for the Open for Business Zones. That would put qualifying companies in a select group. According to a list of the state's employers at the Maine Department of Labor, there are at least 13 companies that have at least 1,500 employees and another 15 that have between 1,000 and 1,500 employees. Most common industry in that list? Hospitals. 

* Maybe it's a marketing thing, but one wonders if the LePage administration should rename the Open for Business Zones given that there's a sign on the Maine Turnpike that says the entire state is open for business.

* In 2013 LePage didn't use the word "welfare" once during his prepared address. The governor's office hasn't posted his prepared speech yet, but a rough count has him saying it at least 15 times in 2014.

* LePage also said he wants to launch a statewide referendum that would ask Maine voters if they want support $100 million in tax relief in exchange for $100 million in reduced government spending. Democrats reaction: Tabor 3.0
Mine: If the referendum message dovetails with the governor's reelection campaign -- and it probably will -- that's a heck of a get-out-the-vote strategy.

* Rhetorical flip: LePage's remarks on Medicaid expansion were familiar. But there was interesting attempt by to flip one of the Democrats' main arguments to support it -- compassion -- against them, saying expansion was actually increasing generational poverty while leaving the needy on a waitlist.

“Liberals believe that giving free health care to able-bodied adults while leaving our most vulnerable out in the cold is compassion. I disagree," he said.

* Divergent approaches to what appears to be a growing heroin problem. Attorney General Janet Mlls recently reported that opiate overdose deaths in the state rose from 156 in 2011 to 163 in 2012 – almost the same number of people who died in traffic crashes that year. The number of overdoses attributed to heroin jumped from seven in 2011 to 28 in 2012, the last year for which figures are available. The state medical examiner expects the total for 2013 to be higher still.

LePage said Tuesday that he plans to step up the state's war on drugs, hiring 14 new Maine Drug Enforcement Agency positions, along with four special drug prosecutors and four new judges to sit in drug courts in Portland, Lewiston, Bangor and Presque Isle. 

The governor didn't mention drug treatment in his speech, so it will be interesting to see if he'll support a bill by Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, that would give police, volunteer firefighters, drug users and their family members access to Narcan, also known by its generic name naloxone, to administer when someone is in the often-fatal respiratory distress that happens during an overdose. It would also allow doctors to prescribe Narcan to people besides those who would need the drug for themselves, such as police officers or family members.

LePage vetoed a similar bill last year. 

* One last observation about the Open for Business Zones: The proposal is similar to the FreeME initiative promoted by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group, right down to the right to work provision.

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Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.

Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or smistler@pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @stevemistler

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