Forget whoopie pie vs. blueberry pie.

It’s time for black lab vs. shelter dog (or Golden retriever, or border collie, etc…)

On Wednesday, the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee will hear public testimony on a bill by Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, that would designate the Labrador retriever as Maine’s official state dog.

It seems to happen every session that at least one oddball bill – out of more than 1,500 filed this year – captures both the media and the public’s attention. While it’s unclear how many members of the public will show on Wednesday, it’s a pretty safe bet that there will be more than a few people ready to argue for or against the lab, knowing how rabid dog owners can be about their particular pup.

TV news networks, radio stations and several newspapers, including the Portland Press Herald, have already covered the brewing dog fight (sorry, couldn’t resist) over the “Maine state dog” controversy. One writer countered the Press Herald piece with an op-ed suggesting shelter dogs would be a better fit for Maine given the state’s high adoption rate of rescue and abandoned dogs.

Meanwhile, a Facebook called “Labs – The State Dog of Maine” had nearly 2,700 likes as of Tuesday evening.

Some Mainers may remember the great whoopie pie debate of 2011 when bakers, nutritionists, lawmakers and plenty of average Mainers all weighed in on whether the frosty treat should be the official state dessert. While some saw the whoopie pie as quintessential Maine, others dismissed it as merely “a frosting delivery vehicle” that doesn’t come close (in taste or historical connection to the state) to a Maine wild blueberry pie.

As Press Herald State House reporter Steve Mistler wrote back then for the Lewiston Sun Journal, lawmakers spent considerably more time debating the whoopie pie bill than they did debating a major policy overhaul of the state’s insurance regulations.

For those interested in attending, the public hearing on LD 107 is slated for 1 p.m. in room 214 of the Cross State Office Building in Augusta. You can also live-stream the committee’s audio by going here.

What are you smoking?

It’s almost unfathomable that lawmakers can have a public hearing about hemp (marijuana’s utilitarian and mostly non-psychoactive sibling) without a few jokes creeping in.

Former state lawmaker Ralph Coffman of Old Town seemed happy to oblige on Tuesday – and in the process make a point about what he and others paint as the ridiculous federal prohibition on growing hemp.

Coffman recounted how, back in the 1970s, he and a few buddies apparently thought they hit the mother lode when they discovered a huge hemp plant growing on the side of the road somewhere. They cut it down and hauled it away.

“We smoked that and smoked it and smoked it, and nothing happened,” Coffman said to riotous laughs from the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, who were in the midst of hearings on bills to allow industrial hemp cultivation in Maine. “I guess I learned then what hemp really was.”

(Hint: industrial hemp has a fraction of the psychoactive substance found in marijuana.)

Long-time Maine political observers may recall this isn’t the first time Coffman’s name has come up in relation to cannabis (even if this discussion was about hemp, not marijuana). For more on that, check out this archived Bangor Daily News article from July 1993 by former BDN State House bureau chief A. J. Higgins, now with the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

Border-crossing smokers

Speaking of smoking – well, the legal kind – the nonprofit The Tax Foundation highlighted an interesting national report this week on cross-border smuggling of cigarettes.


Maine ranked smack dab in the middle – 24th – in terms of the percentage of cigarettes smoked in Maine that are “smuggled” into the state at 10.6 percent, according to data compiled and analyzed by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan think tank. Perhaps not surprisingly, New Hampshire was dead last among the states for which data was available, with 29 percent of cigarettes flowing out of state.

The report doesn’t explicitly say so, but those two figures are almost surely connected. New Hampshire’s cigarette tax is $1.68 a pack while Maine’s is $2.00 a pack. So for Maine smokers living near the ME/NH border, well, you can do the math.

In reality, the term “smuggling” seems a bit over-stated considering that much of that cross-border traffic is likely “casual,” meaning Mainers buying their smokes in the Granite State rather than on some black market.

But it makes one wonder what percentage of Maine-imbibed booze was “smuggled” into the state from New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet stores.

The college try

Lawmakers will present findings of a college affordability task force at noon in the Welcome Center.

Colleague Noel Gallagher, who’s in the midst of reporting a series of stories about the cost and challenges of attending college, advanced the press conference in this piece.

Bottom line: All of the recommendations in the report equal approximately $27 million in new spending initiatives.

– Steve Mistler

A budget for seniors?

It hasn’t become part of the debate, but more than one political observer — and quite a few non-political types — have remarked that Gov. Paul LePage’s budget doesn’t do much to change the graying of Maine. That’s another way of saying that all of the tax breaks and credits are primarily geared toward retirees or residents who claim domiciles in states other than here.

LePage has acknowledged that much of his budget is designed to encourage part-time residents to claim Maine as their primary residents. The administration has also proposed a doubling of the homestead exemption for residents 65 and older. It also removes the tax on pensions and for military veterans.

So what about young and middle-age Mainers? A lot of critics have noted that the budget repeals the homestead tax exemption for property owners below 65. Additionally, the increase in the sales tax could hit Mainers as much as it’s intended to hit tourists. Unless, of course, tourists have a craving for peanut butter, which would be taxed under the governor’s plan (but not bread or jelly).

The LePage administration has not yet had to respond to this criticism, but the assumed counter would be that the income tax cut, along with sales tax credits, will benefit young and middle-aged Mainers as much as retirees. It will be difficult, however, to argue that cutting the income tax, or even eliminating it, will reverse Maine’s aging trend. After all, New Hampshire has no income tax and the median age in the Granite State was barely below Maine’s in 2013.

— Steve Mistler