AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of Maine’s congressional delegation and the governors of four northern border states are urging the Obama administration to implement legislation creating the Northern Border Regional Commission to help spur economic recovery.
The legislation, originally sponsored by Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, would create the new agency and authorize spending for a wide array of programs, such as forestry, tourism, conservation, infrastructure improvements and telecommunications improvements.
There are several federal programs that provide assistance in those areas, according to Michaud, but only the NBRC would look at the regional picture of how projects in the different states can be linked together to benefit the region.
“There are so many areas where the commission could help with economic development in the region,” he said, “We need to get this going sooner rather than later to help get us out of this recession.”
Gov. John Baldacci and the governors of New York, New Hampshire and Vermont joined in a series of letters to the congressional delegations of the four states and officials in the Obama administration seeking allocation of funds under the Recovery Act to initially fund the commission.
“We as governors, both Democrats and a Republican, recognize the need to get this new commission under way to help our region,” Baldacci said recently. “This is very important legislation to the region and to Maine.”
“The northern border region of our states faces tough economic circumstances that have resulted in massive job losses, the shuttering of businesses, and flat incomes,” the governors stated in a letter. “The NRBC was created to help the region tackle these problems together.”
The NRBC is based on the Appalachian Regional Commission, Michaud said. The ARC has proven itself capable of leveraging both federal and private funds to spur economic growth in that region of the country.
“They have done a great job in leveraging the money they get,” he said. “For every dollar, they leveraged $2.57 in other public funding and $8.46 in private funding.”
The governors have requested that $30 million in Recovery Act funds that have been appropriated to the Economic Development Administration be allocated to “jump-start” the new commission.
“One of the things that we have to get done is the ongoing appropriation to the commission,” Michaud said. “We have $3 million in the House bill, and we hope the Senate will at least go along with that.”
He praised the state’s two U.S. senators for supporting the funding and co-sponsoring the Senate version of the legislation. He said that as Congress acts on appropriations measures this month, their support is crucial.
“This has my strong support,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. “This is an outstanding idea, and I want to applaud Representative Michaud for his leadership on this legislation that will help Maine and the region.”
Snowe believes the holdup in allocating the existing federal funds to the new agency is in the White House. She said that the Commerce Department would not release the funds for the agency until the president names a chair of the commission.
“Once that process is completed, this will move forward, I believe,” she said.
The commission also has the strong support of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. She supports the $3 million appropriation to the agency as its first ongoing funding. The Recovery Act funds are one-time.
“Other regions of the country have benefited from similar regional commissions,” she said. “I think our region can certainly benefit from this commission.”
Michaud said he is urging President Obama to name the chair of the panel as soon as possible, while acknowledging the president has a “lot of issues” he is dealing with this month. He has said it is important to have a “regular” appropriation to the commission and not just the one-time Recovery Act dollars.
Baldacci said the burden is not just on the president to name a chair. He said the governors need to be ready to name their appointees to the panel when the president makes his appointment.
“We all have to move on this to get this commission up and running,” he said. “It is in all of our best interests to get this moving.”