LePage-2014SOTS

It was another snow day at the State House on Monday, but plenty should be happening under the dome today.

The big event will happen at approximately 7 p.m. when Gov. Paul LePage delivers his “State of the State” address to a joint session of the Legislature. Governors typically use the speech address to lay out their policy goals for the upcoming legislative session, tout accomplishments and complete the obligatory sentence “The state of the state is ______” (fill in the blank).

Which word will he choose?

LePage already had two occasions — his inauguration and his budget unveiling — to outline his tax and spending goals, so the gov might not break much new news in his speech. Although one never knows with this governor, given his penchant for straying from the script. (Just ask former Maine Community College President John Fitzsimmons).

He’ll surely talk about his $6.3 billion budget, his proposed tax code overhaul and improving Maine’s business climate. But it will be interesting to see the tone the governor uses given the reserved — even muted — reception his bold budget proposal has received from both sides of the aisle.

Will he declare voters issued a mandate for tax cuts when they gave him back the keys to the Blaine House? Will he court Dems with talk of bipartisanship? And how will he address the hushed but very-real concerns about sales tax increases harbored by many within his own party? The governor certainly seems more jovial and relaxed in his public appearances since the election, so expect a few jokes in there too.

We’ll be streaming the speech on the Press Herald homepage. courtesy of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. You can watch the speech live on MPBN at 7 p.m. You can also read about the gov’s plans to take his budget plan to the people in our article in today’s paper, linked here.

Also Tuesday

Earlier Tuesday…

LePage’s acting commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, Richard Rosen, will be talking budget with the budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (which Rosen used to co-chair).

Bangor-area residents or folks who frequently drive through the Queen City might be interested in a 2 p.m. public hearing in the Transportation Committee on a bill, LD 47, by Rep. Arthur Verow, D-Brewer, that would force the Maine Department of Transportation to shelve their preferred route for a connector between I-395 and Route 9.

The Insurance and Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on a bill, LD 24, by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, to create a public state bank. The institution would be known as the Maine Street Bank and would make loans, buy/sell federal bonds, make investments, etc…

Pingree and Poliquin find common ground . . . on shoes

NewBalance-sneaks

Maine’s two U.S. House members — who don’t share too many political ideologies — have for the first time gotten together in the time-honored tradition of congressional letter writing.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, and congressional newcomer U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-District 2, along with several other House members have co-signed a letter to Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall lamenting the Pentagon’s slow progress in issuing American-made sneakers to troops in basic training. It seems the department is “wear testing” one model of sneaker at a time for 90 days, and the result is “what should be a relatively straightforward process has been pushed back by many months.”

While this may seem like a minor issue to some, it is a major priority for one Maine manufacturer. New Balance, which is based in Massachusetts but employs around 900 people at three facilities in Maine, is one of just two companies poised to potentially secure a Pentagon contract to provide cross-trainers and sneakers to new recruits.

This is an issue that members of Congress from Maine, Massachusetts and a handful of other states have been battling for years. While almost every piece of equipment given to U.S. military personnel must be “Made in the U.S.A.,” new recruits have long been allowed to choose their own athletic footwear.

The Pentagon announced plans last year to begin requiring recruits to buy American-made athletic footwear as long the shoes met the military’s specifications, hence the current wear-testing.

Interestingly, Poliquin’s predecessor in Washington, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, was tenacious on this issue. He brought up the perceived loophole in military purchasing seemingly every time he had the chance to talk to President Obama and even presented both the president and the Defense Secretary with pairs of New Balance sneaks to drive home the point (see pic above).

So the folks at New Balance will probably be pleased to see that Poliquin is picking up the cause.

You can read the full letter here: Pingree Poliquin letter to DoD Berry Amendment (2)

Uncommon ground on budget, though

Still, Mainers need only read Pingree and Poliquin’s reactions to the president’s $4 trillion budget proposal to see the starkly different perspectives the state’s two House members brought with them to Washington.

From Poliquin:

“Another year, another inflated budget by President Obama that will not balance within a decade. Our hard-working families in the Second District do not want another tax-and-spend budget that ignores the real fiscal challenges they are facing. It is important for Congress to use a ground-up approach that will reign in wasteful spending, balance the budget and cut excessive red tape to allow our hard-working small businesses to grow and create more jobs.”

From Pingree:

“These budget proposals are about priorities and I think President Obama gets the priorities right.  I’ve been opposed to the blanket, across the board sequester cuts from the very beginning and I’m glad he wants to get rid of them.  And investing in roads and education and scientific research makes sense and would be good for working families.  I know the Republicans control Congress and have opposed these kinds of investments but I hope there can be some kind of compromise that is fair to average Americans.”

Of course, these are political statements on a budget proposal filled with politics. Presidential budgets are essentially vision statements or policy blueprints that Congress can easily put on a shelf as they craft their own budget plan, which is what Republicans will likely do to much of Obama’s $4 trillion budget.

And then there’s the fact that Congress doesn’t even need to pass a budget to keep the government running. Over the past several years, Congress has often relied on “continuing resolutions” that keep federal agencies operating (when Congress isn’t shutting down government, that is) without passing a new budget.