Recent Stories

Rural citizens lose battle to have say in wind tower rezoning

“I feel like a citizen who is seen to be of less value than my neighbors,” said Karen Bessey Pease, after Maine Senate Democrats Wednesday sidelined an effort to give her and other residents of the state’s most rural areas a say in whether wind towers are built in their communities.

“We just asked to have the same rights to determination of zoning issues in our community as our next-door neighbors have,” said Pease, of Lexington Township. “It’s very unfortunate that the Senate voted the way they did.” Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers want to restore rights to residents in wind tower zones

A legislative committee today sided with residents in some of the state’s western mountains in their fight to have more say over the construction of industrial wind towers in their backyards. If the full legislature approves the bill, it would be the first significant blow to the state’s ambitious Wind Energy Act. Continue Reading →

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Wind power’s grip on Augusta weakening as ‘God’s Country’ presses its case

They came from the townships and plantations of Concord, Lexington, Highland, Carrying Place and Pleasant Ridge. They set out for the statehouse in Augusta from the five sparsely populated backcountry communities set between the Kennebec and Carrabassett rivers, from a wooded intervale etched by streams, dappled by lakes and cradled by the hills and mountains of western Maine. Continue Reading →

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University chancellor given authority over top appointments, raises

BANGOR — The University of Maine system trustees on Monday approved policy changes designed to give the chancellor greater authority over appointments, promotions and pay raises. The changes come after press reports about the use of loopholes in the hiring process to give top level jobs to former Baldacci administration officials and about nearly $1 million in discretionary pay raises to system employees. Most of those appointments and pay raises were approved by presidents and top executives at some of the System’s seven campuses. The rules adopted Monday, the result of a study of personnel policies ordered by the new chancellor, James Page, effectively takes final authority over hiring and raises of the System’s top managers away from the presidents and puts it in Page’s hands.All of the controversial pay raises and hiring came under Page’s predecessors. Page said that no management-level “position will be opened or filled without the authority of the chancellor. Continue Reading →

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University System a haven for former top state staffers

Hiring records at the University of Maine System show loopholes, waivers and personal and political connections played a significant role in the appointment of seven state officials into some of the highest paying non-teaching jobs in the system. Six of the seven worked for the same state agency during the administration of former Gov. John Baldacci and the seventh was a member of the System Board of Trustees during that period. The current and immediately past chairs of the board both said that while they believe there was no improper influence in most of the hires, they also said a review of the process is warranted. And the new chancellor of the System, James Page, said he will add the hiring issue to a review he is doing about recent questions involving System pay raises. “I take the allegations and concerns very seriously, but I’m not prepared to say what the strengths of those allegations and concerns are,” Page said. Continue Reading →

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‘F’ in national study means Maine ‘ripe’ for corruption

Maine has earned an “F” from a national organization’s first-in-the-nation assessment of accountability and transparency across the 50 states. Maine ranked 46th in the “State Integrity Investigation” by three nonpartisan, national and international journalism and good government groups. The score was based on research into 330 indicators on both the laws and practices in 14 categories, from procurement to campaign disclosure to lobbying. No state got an A, leading the groups to conclude “statehouses remain ripe for self dealing and corruption.”

A leader of the study said a low score means Maine lacks the laws, regulation and enforcement to ensure residents are “getting the performance they hoped to see” from state government. “For a state that ranks towards the bottom like Maine, these numbers matter a lot because they may help explain why budgets are not flush, why roads aren’t repaired, why there are tax loopholes,” said Nathaniel Heller, executive director of Global Integrity, which collaborated with the Center for Public Integrity and Public Radio International on the investigation. Continue Reading →

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Tax break deals studied … and studied, but questions remain unresolved

Editor’s note: This is the second part in a two-part series about the state Pine Tree Development Zones. To read part one, click here.  

There are two ways the state spends money. One is by paying for goods and services, from roads to colleges to Medicaid. The other way is by not collecting taxes on some business, services and goods. Continue Reading →

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State lacks proof that $46m in Pine Tree Zone tax breaks created jobs

Editor’s note: This is the first part in a two-part series about the state Pine Tree Development Zones.  

Some people call tax breaks for businesses “economic development.”

Others call them “corporate welfare.”

In Maine, one of the names they go by is Pine Tree Development Zones. The premise of the program is that some businesses won’t create new jobs in Maine unless they get tax breaks. The program has cost as much as $46 million in lost taxes since 2003, according to Maine Revenue Service estimates. That’s money other taxpayers had to make up to help the state balance its budget. Continue Reading →

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Taxpayers spending millions on mill that keeps on polluting

The state has spent millions of dollars to prop up the Old Town pulp mill while steadily fining the mill’s owner for ongoing pollution. And now the biggest fine ever is imminent. The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting has learned that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is preparing to slap a $497,000 fine on Old Town Fuel & Fiber for excess air pollution over a 12-month period. That will come on top of $331,000 in penalties assessed by the DEP and the federal

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the past five years. Rather than spend money to solve the persistent air-pollution problem, the mill owners want the state to relax the pollution rules. Continue Reading →

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