Baldacci to hold Maine jobs summit in Jan.

Posted Dec. 06, 2009, at 9:42 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci will convene a state jobs summit next month to hear from the business community and others on ways the state can encourage job growth in Maine.

“We have been focused on jobs since Day One,” Baldacci said in a recent interview. “But the one thing you learn in this job is that you have to constantly adapt and adjust and be flexible.”

Baldacci said he wants to have a “two-way conversation” with employers to explain the tools the state already has to help with development, such as tax breaks provided by the Pine Tree Zones, and to hear from them about what changes the state can make in policy to further help with job creation.

“We know there are problems in some sectors getting the credit they need,” he said. “It’s not just small businesses; it is small retailers that are having trouble getting the working capital they need to operate.”

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Baldacci said he is upset that Congress has used billions in taxpayer money to bail out the big investment banks whose risky lending practices contributed to the recession, but has not directed aid to community and local banks to help create jobs.

“We are fortunate to have the SBA [Small Business Administration] programs, but they are not enough,” he said.

Baldacci said he sent three representatives to the national jobs summit held by President Barack Obama last week. He said their comments will be used in drafting the agenda for the state summit, although many of the issues are known.

Peter Gore, vice president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber has agreed to work with the governor’s office in setting up the state summit.

“I think merely having the discussion about what it is the state can do to encourage job growth and job development is an important message for the business community to get in the current economic climate,” he said, adding there are no simple answers to the question of what the state can do to help.

“If you ask 10 businesses, you will probably get 10 different answers of how to improve the business climate and help them create more jobs,” he said.

Gore said that if the summit could identify legislation that could help solve the problems facing business development, including regulatory hurdles, it could help jump-start Maine’s economy as the recession recedes.

“Businesses complain to me all the time about the volume of paperwork required by the state at a bunch of different levels,” he said. “That’s an area to look at.”

David Clough, Maine director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, had criticized Baldacci and the Legislature for not focusing on the impediments to job creation when it was announced last week the taxes that fund the unemployment system will go up by $54 million in January.

He said the governor’s decision to call the state meeting is important and needs to include small-business owners and to tackle tough questions such as the size of the unemployment tax increase.

“There are a lot of things that can be done to encourage businesses to develop,” he said. “And as important is not doing anything to discourage business. We should not be talking about increasing the costs of doing business, like the mandatory paid sick leave proposal.”

Clough said that even though the state is facing fiscal problems, additional tax incentives for companies to invest should be considered. He said the state should conform Maine’s income tax law to federal tax provisions that allow companies to “expense” a larger amount of capital investments.

House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, said the job summit is a good idea. She said the governor has discussed plans for the meeting with her and Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, and lawmakers will participate.

“The governor is following the lead of President Obama,” she said. “The point of the jobs summit, like in Washington, is to hear from businesses what we can do to help.”

Pingree said it may be that some of the ideas simply cannot be afforded when the state is facing a $384 million revenue shortfall.

Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, the Senate GOP floor leader, agreed. But he said there are steps the Legislature should consider to improve Maine’s business climate and encourage job growth.

“The thing that the state can do is to take a look at our regulatory environment,” he said. “We should not be impeding growth through unneeded regulations.”

Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Gorham, the Senate majority leader, praised the governor’s decision to call the state summit on jobs. He said as lawmakers deal with the state’s revenue shortfall, they will not forget that creating jobs is the best way to end the recession.

“We will make the time to address any effort to create more jobs in the state of Maine,” he said. “We all understand that people in Maine are hurting and are out of work and looking for work or are underemployed.”

Bartlett said there are many steps that the state can take to encourage development, including investing more in the state’s infrastructure. He suggested a bond package may help in that area since the state is facing a revenue shortfall.

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