Press Herald poll finds Mainers still feeling recession

The Great Recession may be over but many Mainers are still living on the edge, with only a third feeling financially secure and almost half saying they would find it difficult to cover an unexpected $1,000 bill.

A poll from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, found Maine residents feeling less certain of their personal finances than the rest of the country, where two out of three people rated their own finances as good in a national Associated Press poll in April.

On the other hand, a higher percentage of Mainers feel better prepared to cover an emergency expense than the two-thirds of Americans who told the AP-NORC Center that they would find it difficult to do so. One out of every three Maine residents believes that jobs and the economy is the most important problem facing Maine.

Charles Colgan, former longtime University of Southern Maine economist, believes the decline from the 50 percent of Mainers who identified the economy as the top issue in 2014, and the low number of Mainers feeling stuck in their current financial situation, is more optimistic than in the past, and possibly inconsistent with current economic indicators. Read the story.


Mainers largely split on views of the Affordable Care Act

That same Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll found that young Mainers – those in the 18-34 age demographic – are most critical of the Affordable Care Act.

Overall, the poll showed Mainers are still deeply divided in their opinions of the six-year-old law, with 40 percent in favor of the ACA and 41 percent opposed.

Mainers still have a slightly more favorable view of the ACA than the nation as a whole, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll. In the monthly tracking polls over the past year, national opposition to the law has run 5 percentage points to 7 percentage points ahead of support for it. As of April 2016, the national poll showed 49 percent of adults had an unfavorable view of the law, compared with 38 percent who support it. Read the story.

Maine Med wins $5 million lung cancer grant

Maine Medical Center in Portland won a four-year, $5 million grant to create a statewide initiative to expand services for the prevention and early detection of lung cancer, which occurs at a much higher rate in Maine than the national average.

Maine Med also received an additional $600,000 from two other funding sources to help launch the initiative, which will include an expansion of anti-smoking public education campaigns. One of the effort’s goals will be to improve access to preventive screenings for lung cancer.

Maine’s death rate for lung cancer is 53 per 100,000 population, the worst in the Northeast and higher than the national average of 45, according to 2012 statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the latest year available. Maine’s overall smoking rate is similar to the national average, but there are pockets of rural Maine with high concentrations of smoking. Also, Maine is the oldest state in the nation, and cancer is more likely to strike as people age and become more vulnerable to diseases.

The Massachusetts-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation awarded the grant to launch the Maine Lung Cancer Prevention and Screening Initiative, a four-year collaboration with Maine health care providers from multiple institutions. Read the story.


VW emissions settlement affects over 3,600 Maine cars

Volkswagen announced this week a record $14.7 billion settlement with states and consumers – including the owners of 3,630 cars in Maine – over loading its diesel cars with illegal software to defeat emissions tests. All owners of the affected vehicles, whether they sell back the cars or keep them and opt to have VW fix the problems, also will get payments of at least $5,100 and up to more than $10,000 as compensation. Those who leased the cars will be able to terminate their leases for free and get a payment that’s expected to be about half of the cash payment that owners will get.

According to the Maine Attorney General’s Office, nearly 4,000 of the roughly 475,000 affected cars in the U.S. were sold in Maine.

According to the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles, 3,630 of the four-cylinder diesel cars were registered in Maine as of September 2015.

VW also agreed to set up a $2.7 billion national fund for programs to reduce car emissions. Maine will be eligible for about $20 million of that, with the funds going to projects that will be determined by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The state also will receive $3.6 million for repeated violations of state consumer protection laws. A federal judge is expected to approve the civil settlement in late July, but VW still faces possible criminal charges over the scandal.

The buyback, fix and compensation program is expected to begin as soon as November. Read the story.


Press Herald wins national award for series on Maine mill tax breaks

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram was honored for distinguished business reporting Tuesday night when it won a 2016 Loeb Award for its series “Payday at the Mill.”

Considered the Pulitzer Prizes of business journalism, the Gerald Loeb Awards were created in 1957 to encourage reporting on business and finance that informs and protects investors and the public.

More than 490 entries were submitted for consideration by Loeb Award judges this year and “Payday at the Mill” was one of four Local Category finalists. The series was written by former staff writer Whit Richardson, with contributions from former political reporter Steve Mistler, and edited by Business Editor Carol Coultas.

The Local Category recognizes excellence in the coverage of a business, financial or economic story centered in a particular geographic area.

Richardson’s series started with a simple question: How could a mill that had just landed $40 million in investments and tax breaks shut down a year later?

That question launched an investigation into the complex world of New Market tax credits in the wake of the bankruptcy and closure of the Great Northern Paper Mill in East Millinocket.

Following publication of the series in April 2015, state legislators submitted bills to reform the tax credit program, and six months after the series was published, the federal government issued new guidelines prohibiting New Market tax credits from being used to pay off old debt and other questionable financial practices. Read the two-part series here, and here.

Portland composting service wins business competition show

The Portland-based composting service Garbage to Garden won a $100,000 grant in the season one finale of business competition TV show “Greenlight Maine.”

Garbage to Garden was one of three finalists that competed in a live event Friday at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. The other two finalists were Portland-based national parks guide app-maker Chimani and biobased products developer Revolution Research, located in Orono.

Greenlight Maine also said it has received a $100,000 grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development to help fund future seasons.

The show was created by Brian Corcoran, CEO of Shamrock Sports & Entertainment; Nat Thompson, former producer and owner of WCSH-6; and Con Fullam, an executive TV producer and music composer. Twenty-six companies are selected each season to compete against each other in a weekly show. Corcoran said the show is in talks with potential donors to double the grand prize to $200,000 for its upcoming second season.


CMP customers seeing jump in electricity bills

Central Maine Power customers saw an increase in the delivery portion of their electricity bills beginning Friday, the result of several unrelated changes approved by federal and state utility regulators.

For a typical home customer, the delivery portion rose by 7 percent. That will add $3.12 to an average bill of $78.47. The $3.12 figure assumes a household is using 550 kilowatt hours a month and receiving its energy supply from the state’s standard offer service.

The delivery rate hike will be more significant for large industrial customers, rising 38 percent. Smaller industrial customers and commercial businesses will see 19 percent increases.

The rate changes were part of a settlement agreement approved this month by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The largest share of the increase is related to the expiration of transmission cost refunds previously approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Other factors driving the delivery rate change included legal action against the federal government relating to spent fuel storage at the former Maine Yankee nuclear plant in Wiscasset, which resulted in millions in damage awards, which were given to customers but have since been fully paid. Also, funding for Efficiency Maine Trust, which is assessed through utility bills, will more than double beginning Friday. Read the story.


Trump criticizes US trade deals during visit to Bangor

Businessman Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican White House candidate, who held a rally in Portland in March, appeared in Bangor on Wednesday, saying he would undo the damage the nation has suffered as a result of poor trade deals and globalization, which he says have reduced America’s respect and stature.

“Every country that we do business with looks at us as, we are the stupid people,” Trump said. “This country is being drained of its jobs and its money because we have stupid people making deals.” Trump said he would install tough trade negotiators and demand America’s trading partners, especially Mexico and Canada, renegotiate trade treaties, especially the North American Free Trade Agreement.

After the rally, Jason Savage, a spokesman for the Maine GOP, said Trump’s speech resonated with Maine’s working class, and that Trump’s trip to Bangor was an acknowledgment of his support for the trouble they’ve endured in Maine.

“I think he came here and spoke about the things that voters in this district care about,” Savage said. “He talked about trade, he talked about how Hillary Clinton has hollowed out the middle class in Maine, he talked about drugs and jobs and the things people care about, and he was right on point.” Read the story.

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