Maine, other states will benefit from online sales tax ruling

Maine stands to take in tens of millions of dollars after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that online retailers must collect all state and local sales taxes. In the 5-4 ruling, the court said a decadeslong rule that exempted companies from collecting sales tax unless they had a physical presence like an office, store or warehouse in the state was out-of-date in an era of fast-paced online commerce. States lose billions of dollars every year because of the physical presence rule, according to the court’s majority opinion in South Dakota v. Wayfair, which was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Maine officials have estimated the state loses up to $20 million a year from online sales that aren’t taxed. Maine Finance Commissioner Alec Porteous said the ruling is being reviewed to determine how it will affect the state. Read the story.


Home prices spiked 10% in May, while sales volume decreased

Sales of existing single-family homes in Maine decreased slightly in May from a year earlier as a result of limited housing inventory, but prices continued to rise, according to a Maine Listings report issued Wednesday. Home sales volume decreased by 1.4 percent compared with May 2017, it said, but the statewide median sale price increased by 10 percent to $219,900. The median sale price indicates that half of the homes were sold for more money and half sold for less. Even though sales figures for May show a slight dip, existing-home sales for January through May are running 1.6 percent above the 2017 pace, which was the strongest year ever for Maine real estate sales. Read the story.

Portland Pipe Line’s challenge to city’s ordinance underway

Loading tankers with crude oil on South Portland’s eastern waterfront would flout the city’s comprehensive plan and stunt economic development, the city’s planning director testified Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland. Portland Pipe Line Corp. is challenging the city’s “Clear Skies” ordinance, which effectively blocked the company from reversing the flow of a 236-mile underground pipeline that has carried foreign crude from harbor terminals in South Portland to refineries in Montreal. The City Council banned bulk loading of crude oil on the city’s waterfront in 2014, just as production of tar sands oil was taking off in western Canada and demand for foreign crude began to dwindle. In a bench trial before Judge John Woodcock Jr., the company is trying to show that the ordinance violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives Congress sole power to regulate foreign and interstate trade. Read the story.

Developers of stalled ‘midtown’ settle dispute with contractor

A Vermont construction company and the developer of the stalled “midtown” project in Portland have settled a lawsuit over the troubled mixed-use project. PC Constuction filed a lawsuit in federal court a month ago, saying that The Federated Cos., developer of the Bayside project, set up its corporate structure to allow it to walk away from the project without paying some of its contractors. Those contractors included PC Construction, which said it was owed $235,000 by the developer. But the two sides reached a settlement that did not include any payments and the suit was dismissed Monday. Read the story.


FDA reconsiders labeling honey, maple syrup with ‘added sugar’

The Food and Drug Administration will reconsider requiring “added-sugar” labeling on pure maple syrup and honey after receiving thousands of comments on the proposed change. Producers of maple syrup and honey were upset by the requirement for an added-sugar labeling, saying it would be confusing and could have a devastating effect on their businesses. The FDA in February released new guidelines for nutrition facts labeling that requires manufactures to include the amounts of both added and total sugars. Maple syrup and honey are naturally high in sugar – so high it triggers the new requirement. Tuesday, the FDA said it recognized the complexity of the added-sugar labeling issue and will review the feedback it has received. The agency said it will work with stakeholders to devise a “sensible solution.” Read the story.


Regulators cut proposed hike in Emera rate by nearly half

Maine regulators have cut Emera Maine’s proposed rate increase by nearly half but AARP Maine says the 5.34 percent increase is still too high. The Maine Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday reduced Emera Maine’s request for a 12-percent boost in the distribution portion of customers’ bills. AARP Maine State Director Lori Parham said the organization was disappointed that the panel allowed a third rate increase in just five years. Read the story.

LePage administration refuses to identify those on wind panel

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is refusing to identify the members of a public commission charged with reviewing the impact of wind farms on the state’s tourism economy. LePage, a strident critic of wind power, ordered the commission created in January under an executive order that allows it to gather public comments but meet in secret. Now the administration is also keeping secret the names of the group’s members, saying it will reveal them only after public comments have been gathered. Steve McGrath, who heads the governor’s energy office, declined to identify the members of the Maine Wind Energy Commission, saying they will be revealed when the commission is ready to meet. The Press Herald is seeking the identities of the commission via the Freedom of Access Act. Read the story.


Rule lets business groups offer own health insurance plans

Industry leaders in Maine say they welcome new rules issued Tuesday by the Trump administration that will allow national trade organizations, local chambers of commerce and other business groups to offer their own health insurance plans to their members. But some health care advocates criticized the new rules, saying they could further destabilize the state’s Affordable Care Act market by introducing a cheaper alternative that does not have to meet the same standards for quality health insurance coverage. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a 200-page document that lays out rule changes to loosen the eligibility requirements for a type of large group health insurance plans known as association health plans, making it easier for business organizations to offer them. Association health plans allow small businesses to band together and use their purchasing power to obtain more affordable health insurance coverage as a group. Read the story.

Maine lobster industry worries about proposed Chinese tariff

The Maine lobster industry is reeling at the prospect of losing its biggest overseas market. Industry leaders warn that a proposed 25 percent Chinese tariff on U.S. lobster exports will drive U.S. lobster prices down, causing untold harm to an industry that was counting on China to offset market losses in Europe caused by a trade deal between Canada and the European Union. “This is going to hurt everybody connected to the lobster industry,” said Annie Tselikis, director of the Maine Lobster Dealers Association. Last year, Maine fishermen landed $434 million worth of lobster. The lobster industry represents 2 percent of Maine’s gross domestic product, concluded a recent study. Read the story.


Two motels can remain open under deal with South Portland

Two budget motels on Route 1 in South Portland will be allowed to stay open under agreements approved Tuesday night that require them to increase security and cooperation with police. The City Council voted 7-0 to overturn recent decisions not to renew the operating licenses of the Maine Motel and the Knights Inn – denials that were based on several incidents of alleged prostitution or drug-related activity in the last year. The motels’ owners filed a lawsuit last month to block the city from shutting down the family-owned-and-operated businesses. A judge called for a compromise that would allow the businesses to remain open. Read the story.

– From staff and media partners