September 19, 2011

State House Notebook: Hearings bring back lawmakers

From staff reports

Over the next two weeks, the State House will be buzzing with lawmakers again, due to confirmation hearings on 91 nominations from Gov. Paul LePage for a vacant Cabinet seat and seats on state boards and commissions.

Rewarding political supporters with a role in government is a time-honored practice followed by Democrats and Republicans alike; a number of LePage donors are expected to be named to posts.

A quick search on the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices website shows that about 22 percent of the 91 nominees donated to LePage's gubernatorial campaign.

If you subtract the 14 people getting reappointed, the number of new nominees donating to LePage rises to 26 percent.

Other nominees who didn't donate to LePage did contribute to the campaigns of his Republican primary rivals, including Steve Abbott, Matt Jacobson, Les Otten and Bruce Poliquin. There's even the occasional Eliot Cutler supporter sprinkled in.

Some former LePage rivals are now nominees. Peter Mills, who has been serving as interim executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, has been nominated to take the position full time. Jacobson has been nominated to serve on the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees the Downeaster train service.

Others who ran against LePage have already taken prominent roles: Bill Beardsley, commissioner of the Department of Conservation, and Bruce Poliquin, state treasurer.

The Cabinet seat nominee is Pattie Aho, LePage's nominee for commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection and a former lobbyist. She donated $100 to Abbot in the primary, but also gave $100 to Democratic candidate Steve Rowe and Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell.

The full Legislature will convene for one day -- Sept. 27 -- to vote on a congressional redistricting plan. The Senate is expected to consider all the nominations that day as well.

SHOW ME THE JOBS

A panel charged with saving $25 million by streamlining government fell into the weeds last week debating the value of a $1,600 program that enables business networking for young professionals.

"We didn't have this when I was coming up," said Joe Bruno, a former Republican lawmaker on the panel.

"Why is the state of Maine paying for networking for young people? Is $1,600 really going to benefit every young person in Maine?"

State Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, was similarly down on the Realize Maine program. "Why continue to fund it? Shouldn't it be (the) private sector doing it?" he asked.

State Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said the monies serve as a match to help leverage private support.

"The Legislature has done that over time, said we'll give you this amount of money and go match it and if you match it, you get the money," the longtime lawmaker said.

Bruno wasn't impressed.

"Has it been beneficial since it started? Show me the statistics that networking young people has either promoted a career, how many jobs has it created and who has gotten jobs?" he asked.

Martin responded, "As we sit here and talk about $1,600, we're never going to get to the $25 million."

SPEAKING OF FINDING $25 MILLION

Several groups told the state there is no way they can comply with a directive to cut spending. The Maine Public Broadcasting Network was among them.

The network was asked to propose a way to cut $46,526 from its budget to help the new state panel trim $25 million from the 2013 state budget. But in a letter to Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett, John Isacke, chief financial officer for MPBN, said the network could not comply.

"Since the state is already saving over $500,000 through providing less than the statutorily required appropriations, MPBN does not believe that the targeted cut is appropriate," he wrote.

(Continued on page 2)

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