December 12, 2011

State House Notebook: Maine again ranks last for doing business

AUGUSTA — A new Forbes ranking puts Maine dead last on a list of "Best States for Business" for the second year in a row.

That angers Mary Adams, a Republican tax activist since the 1970s who has tried and failed to get Mainers to approve automatic limits on tax increases.

"You're scrolling down, looking through the states, the last state is Maine," she said recently during a phone interview. "It angers me we have had such bad guidance through the years that we end up being 50th on a list of 50."

The magazine judged the states in six categories and Maine did well in only one -- coming in 17th for "quality of life." In addition to an overall ranking of 50th, Maine finished last in the "growth prospects" category as well.

The best states?

Utah, Virginia and North Carolina, according to the magazine.

Here's what the story said about Maine: "Maine suffers from energy costs 31 percent above the national average, stagnant population growth and anemic forecasts when it comes to job and gross state product growth."

Republicans often quoted Forbes during the campaign for governor last year and will likely continue to argue that they need more time in office to turn things around. Adams thinks the ranking is proof that the Legislature needs to listen to reforms proposed by Gov. Paul LePage.

"When I look at this I think, 'Go, Gov. LePage, go,'" she said. "We've got a dead state, whether Democrats or Republicans recognize it. People are suffering."

MURAL UPDATE

LePage's comments to Brian Williams of NBC News in September are the basis of a new court filing by those who say the governor did not have the right to remove a pro-labor mural from the Department of Labor.

While participating in a panel on education, Williams asked LePage about his decision to remove the mural.

"My objection to the mural is simply where the money came from," LePage said. "The money was taken out of the unemployment insurance fund, which is dedicated to provide benefits to unemployed workers. They robbed that account to build the mural. And until they pay for it, it stays hidden."

The plaintiffs suing LePage in federal District Court say that's a different argument than the one advanced earlier this year by LePage and his spokespeople, who said they took it down because it was anti-business.

Because LePage is making a new argument, the plaintiffs say that's another good reason to put the issue before a jury, not just a judge. The plaintiffs are suing LePage because they want the mural put back up. They say taking it down violated the First Amendment free speech rights of the artist.

The state argues that it has a right to government speech, and that a new administration is entitled to send a different message by removing art on state property that's counter to their goals.

Mark your calendar for January, when oral arguments are likely to be held.

YET MORE POLL RESULTS

A new poll shows 43 percent of Mainers approve of the job LePage is doing, while 50 percent disapprove, according to Pan Atlantic SMS Group.

That's in the ballpark with a recent Critical Insights poll that showed 47 percent approval and 40 percent disapproval, and Public Policy Polling results that indicate 43 percent approve of the job he's doing, and 48 percent disapprove.

Pan Atlantic called 400 registered Maine voters between Nov. 9 and Nov. 22. The poll has a 4.9 percent margin of error.

The pollsters also asked about Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, who is running for re-election next year. When asked if she deserved to be re-elected, 59 percent said yes, 28 percent said no and 12 percent did not know. Snowe faces primary challenges from Scott D'Amboise of Lisbon Falls and Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell.

(Continued on page 2)

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