Maine would lose about $80 million in federal highway funding under a House transportation bill expected to be voted on as early as this week, according to Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District.

The state does better under a pending Senate bill also set for a final vote this week, but it isn’t yet clear which version will win out – or whether Congress will be able to resolve differences and pass a final transportation bill before the November election.

Under the $260 billion House measure, Maine would get about $878 million over five years, compared with about $958 million that flowed to the state over five years from the current transportation bill, Michaud said last week.

Michaud, a member of the House Transportation Committee, opposed the bill in committee. He noted that it also eliminates the scenic byways program, which over five years under the last transportation bill yielded $5.7 million for Maine beautification projects, helping tourism efforts.

Michaud said several states, including California and Texas, would come out ahead, while most states would get less money than before; but it isn’t certain that the bill will pass in the House.

Meanwhile, the Senate is taking a different approach with a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill. Under that bill, Maine would get nearly $195 million this year and about $198 million in 2013, an increasef from its 2011 allocation of $191.6 million, according to the office of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a member of two committees that helped craft the Senate bill – the finance committee and the commerce, science and transportation committee.

‘Good compromise’

Rep. Chellie Pingree was the only member of the Maine delegation last week who urged President Obama to stay the course on a rule requiring religious-affiliated employers to provide coverage for contraceptives.

However, Pingree, D-1st District, pronounced Obama’s shift announced Friday, which involves workers at religious institutions receiving birth-control benefits directly from insurance companies, a “good compromise that serves the public health.”

Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine were among those saying last week that Obama should address the concerns raised by religious leaders, despite the fact that in 2001 Snowe authored and Collins co-sponsored a bill that prohibited insurance plans from excluding contraceptives from their prescription benefits.

There was no religious exemption in that bill as written, but Snowe indicated at the time that she would address that issue, and a Collins spokesman said that Collins too favored a “conscience clause.” The bill didn’t advance that year after a Sept. 10, 2001, hearing. The same bill also was introduced by Snowe in 2005 and 2008, but did not receive a hearing, her office said.

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, had said last week that he, too, wanted Obama to shift his stance.

“I have always been a strong proponent of family planning services because of their importance to women’s health. The initial ruling, however, was an issue of religious freedom,” Michaud said.

‘On the radar’

Republican Kevin Raye, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud in the 2nd District, last week was named to “On the Radar” status by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Raye is one of 21 GOP congressional candidates nationwide being put in that category, the second stage of the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program, which awards national party money and support for GOP candidates who are judged in a position to succeed.

For Raye, the state Senate president from Perry, to win that money and support, his campaign, which just began last month, will have to meet key benchmarks for fundraising and other goals set by the NRCC.

Raye may have to compete in a primary first, however.

Blaine Richardson of Belfast, a builder and Navy veteran, said he plans to run in the GOP primary against Raye. Richardson said last week he is working on gathering signatures and other paperwork needed to get on the ballot in the 2nd District.

Driver’s licenses for veterans

Sen. Olympia Snowe last week introduced a bill that she said will help streamline the process for veterans to receive a commercial driver’s license.

The Maine Republican co-authored the measure with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., which calls on the secretaries of transportation and defense to develop a process for veterans with the requisite military background and driving experience to obtain a commercial license more quickly.

“It is unfortunate so many veterans, especially those recently returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have found themselves unable to successfully transition into civilian professions for which they have already received world-class training,” Snowe said.

Snowe’s office said the legislation is similar to a provision in the House version of the pending highway bill.

Staying power

Maine’s U.S. House members do a better-than-average job retaining office staffers, according to a study by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.

The foundation studied staff retention rates for all House members over a two-year period and found that the average retention rate was 64.2 percent.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, kept 68.7 percent of her staff over the period between the third quarter of 2009 and the third quarter of 2011, according to the study. Rep. Mike Michaud retained 73.6 percent of his staff. Michaud had 14 out of 19 staff stay on, while Pingree had 11 out of 16 remain, according to the study.

The lowest rate was 19 percent in the office of Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio. The highest was in the office of Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., at 94 percent.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]

Twitter: MaineTodayDC


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