Blaine House hopefuls reveal job-growth plans

Posted Oct. 08, 2010, at 9:29 p.m.

Eliot Cutler

For Cutler, an independent from Cape Elizabeth, the first steps toward true, long-term economic growth begin by lowering the costs of health care, energy and government combined with changing the regulatory environment in state government.

“Those, in my view, are much more important, much more realistic and much more meaningful to job creation than anything else,” Cutler said recently.

Cutler wants to create an Energy Finance Authority that will take advantage of its status as a public entity to secure low-interest, tax-exempt financing for energy infrastructure projects or to help private businesses reduce their energy costs.

The authority could also partner with the private sector to build renewable energy generation facilities and to spur expansion of the heavy manufacturing companies needed to support the green energy economy in Maine. Cutler said the authority could help negotiate public-private partnerships to bring natural gas lines to industries along the Penobscot, Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers.

On health care, Cutler has proposed a Maine Wellness program focused on encouraging high-quality, preventative care modeled after corporate wellness programs. He has also proposed using the state’s financial leverage through MaineCare to push for more efficient, higher-quality care.

At the center of Cutler’s government reform platform would be a newly created Office of Regulatory Review and Repeal to change or eliminate rules and regulations deemed unnecessary or harmful to business growth. He has proposed abolishing the Board of Environmental Protection and changing the regulatory culture to be business friendly.

“Our regulations are tough, and they ought to be tough,” Cutler said. “But the way we are implementing those regulations creates an unpredictable or uncertain environment that drives people away from Maine.”

Cutler’s other job-related initiatives include:

• Consolidating the state’s economic development activities now located in different departments into the Department of Commerce and Tourism.

• Developing “the Maine brand” to expand both tourism and exports, promoting Maine more as a four-season destination and encouraging schools to start after Labor Day.

• Capitalizing on Maine’s location between Canada and the northeastern U.S. by investing in ports, rail lines, roads and other infrastructure to help move energy and goods.

Paul LePage

During the roll-out of his job creation plan in late summer, LePage talked about the need to create an “EZ Pass” system for businesses largely by lessening perceived regulatory burdens.

At the heart of his regulatory reform program is a proposal to require that every state agency review rules “to prove their regulatory policies improve Maine and are not just a roadblock to new job opportunities.”

LePage, the Republican mayor of Waterville and an executive at Marden’s, said he would also institute a policy in which state agencies have 90 days to respond to new business permits.

In an interview, LePage said that does not mean the agency will have to make a decision within 90 days. Instead, he said agencies will have to provide businesses with a “90-day road map,” based on a preliminary review, detailing all of the steps needed to complete their project so that the applicant knows the costs up front.

“In 90 days, you can tell me if it is doable or not doable,” LePage said. “If it’s not doable, why not? And if it is doable, then what do we need to do?”

LePage has also proposed requiring state agencies to conduct an impact assessment of every proposed new regulation to determine the impact on jobs and small businesses. The program in Maine would be based on recommendations provided by the federal Small Business Administration that have already been adopted by sev-eral states.

“We do environmental impacts,” LePage said. “I want to do a job-cost impact study.”

In order to lower health care costs, LePage has proposed allowing Maine citizens and businesses to purchase insurance across state lines and scaling back Maine’s health mandates to be in line with national averages.

He said he would also pursue tort reform to cut down on what is described as frivolous lawsuits driving up the costs of medical care.

Other LePage job-creation proposals include:

• Institute a $5 filing fee — down from $145 — for new businesses seeking to incorporate in the state.

• Create additional tax exemptions for business purchases.

• Pursue a diverse energy mix, including hydro, wind, biomass, solar, tidal and nuclear as well as deals with Canadian firms to negotiate lower-cost energy and transmission lines.

Libby Mitchell

Mitchell has argued that Maine can create new, sustainable jobs by investing in Maine’s “green economy” through a dual focus on conservation measures and development of renewable energy sources as well as by strengthening programs aimed at encouraging business investment.

She would expand the current focus on home and business weatherization by continuing to seek federal funding and dedicating revenues from the cap-and-trade program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative toward conservation.

“Since 80 percent of our homes are heated with oil and we have the oldest housing stock, for the foreseeable future there is plenty of work to be done in terms of conservation,” Mitchell said.

Additionally, Mitchell has proposed weatherizing all Maine schools through a new guaranteed loan program in which schools would finance the projects through their energy savings at no cost to the state.

Mitchell has also proposed expanding or modernizing the Seed Capital Tax Credit program, which provide tax credits for investors that provide equity to eligible small businesses.

To help avert business closures or layoffs, Mitchell has proposed creating a “Rapid Response Program” within the governor’s office featuring experts who would help develop new business strategies or assist with financing.

“We would like to make sure we are reaching out to industries before the crisis,” Mitchell said.

During Mitchell’s time as Senate president, the Legislature has passed two bond packages containing more than $200 million, largely for roads and infrastructure projects.

Mitchell said she would once again propose a “a robust and responsible bond package” for critical projects, including roads, bridges, ports and rail as well as drinking water infrastructure, and research and development.

Mitchell’s other job creation proposals include:

• Creation of a “Management for Maine” program to coordinate existing programs that provide management and skills training to small or mid-sized companies.

• Encourage the use of locally grown or harvested foods by requiring that at least 25 percent of all food served in schools, prisons and state facilities be grown in Maine.

• Explore public-private partnerships to bring natural gas lines to Augusta and Waterville.

Shawn Moody

For Moody, the best way to “grow our way” out of the current recession is by focusing on improving the business climate, increasing tax incentives to businesses and lowering energy and health care costs.

Moody, the founder of New England’s largest chain of vehicle collision repair shops, believes more of Maine’s economic development efforts — and money — needs to be focused in-state helping local companies and industries rather than trying to attract new ones.

While the state needs to market itself elsewhere — especially when it comes to tourism — Moody said Maine also needs to focus on improving the business climate here first, which will help later in attracting new companies.

Moody said Maine could follow the federal government’s lead in two key areas.

First, he has proposed expanding a tax incentive that allows business owners to deduct the costs of new equipment and other eligible purchases on their income taxes as an expense — something known as “accelerated depreciation.” In Maine, accelerated depreciation is capped at $25,000 while the feds allow up to $250,000.

“This is a tax incentive that would actually be a revenue generator for the state and local communities” by encouraging new purchases, Moody said.

Secondly, Moody said he wants Maine to follow the federal government by allowing business owners to offset losses in one year by carrying them forward into the next.

Moody has also proposed easing some regulatory requirements on what he calls “micro businesses,” which are operations with only a handful of employees.

In the area of health care, Moody said Maine should look to New Hampshire for guidance on how to create a more competitive insurance market. That will likely require Maine to reduce its insurance mandates, he said.

Moody’s other job-creation proposals include:

• Strengthen Maine’s vocational education programs to give non-college bound students the training they need to get jobs and start their own business.

• Conduct “exit interviews” with Maine companies that leave the state, close or downsize to find out the reasons.

• A two-pronged energy strategy focused on continuing the state’s conservation efforts while encouraging the development of all types of renewable energy.

Kevin Scott

Scott’s approach to job creation focuses on rebuilding Maine’s agricultural economy through local markets while working to improve the state’s approach to recruiting new businesses.

An independent candidate from Andover, Scott said he wants to transform Maine’s agriculture industry by requiring that all public schools — grades kindergarten through 12 — serve food that is grown by Maine farmers.

In order to meet the new demand for locally sourced food, Scott has proposed state incentives for farmers that expand or build large greenhouses for year-round agriculture.

One example of an incentive that Scott has offered is a state revolving loan fund — similar to the type currently used for public water infrastructure projects — wherein farmers could receive low-interest or no-interest loans for the greenhouse projects. Funding for the loan program likely would come from voter-approved bonds.

“It’s a revolving loan fund, so it requires repayment,” he said.

By expanding Maine’s farming industry and focusing on year-round agriculture, the state will be providing jobs not just to farmers but to equipment dealers, the construction trades, engineers and university researchers developing the latest technology, Scott said.

“You create wealth across all Maine demographics,” he said.

Scott, who runs a recruiting firm for high-tech companies, said he also believes the state could benefit by replicating some of the recruiting techniques of the corporate world.

For instance, he has proposed converting some state employees focused on economic development to a commission-based system in which they will be compensated for attracting new jobs.

Scott’s other job-creation plans include:

• Renegotiate Maine’s contract with the ISO-New England power pool for lower rates, although he has also suggested possible withdrawal from the pool.

• Contact the Top 10 “business-friendly states” to better understand their strategies and attempt to emulate them in Maine.

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