PRC Speaks Out

Public-private partnerships at work, bracing for battle over the state budget, and more

Posted Feb. 19, 2013, at 11:21 a.m.

Editor’s Note: This report is compiled weekly for members of the Portland Regional Chamber. It provides a breakdown of recent news around state policy, as well as a heads-up on coming events. The Bangor Daily News is publishing this report in cooperation with the PRC.

Last week we heard about two examples of strategic public investments in our region setting the stage for major private sector growth. This is the way the public and private sectors ought to support each other, as the PPH editors noted on Friday.

In 2010, Portland received a $5 million dollar federal Department of Transportation grant that was used to improve the City’s International Marine Terminal. The upgrades made possible by federal stimulus money were essential to reviving the IMT, and last week Eimskip, an Icelandic shipping company, committed to bringing about 5,000 containers to Portland each year.

Eimskip said the upgrades were critical to their decision to locate in Portland. The company’s investment will bring jobs to the City, and more importantly, as the Governor said, new market access for Maine businesses all over the state. Coverage in the BDN, PPH, PDS and on MPBN.

Mayor Brennan summed up the lesson of public-private success in the BDN: “A number of different entities had the vision a number of years ago to come together to form this public-private partnership, to invest in the infrastructure here and to make sure we had the resources in this area so that what’s happening today is exactly what we wanted to have happen: to have a major business come to the city of Portland and all of a sudden open markets to local businesses, and businesses throughout the state and region, in ways we haven’t had in the past.”

Eimskip isn’t the only success made possible by public investments. Seth Koenig in the BDN outlined how the City has spent $8 million dollars over 13 years in the Bayside neighborhood, resulting in almost $140 million dollars of private investment that’s still growing.

As we move ahead with new regional development plans it’s important to understand how public investment can unlock private growth. No doubt we’ll have new opportunities to work this winning combination at the state house and in our region in 2013.

Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:

Next week the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee will start its work on the Governor’s proposed two-year state budget. One of many controversial cuts in the Governor’s budget is suspension of the BETR (Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement) program for 18 months, followed by program changes that reduce municipal reimbursement for eliminated business equipment property tax payments.

So what’s that mean to you? To area employers? To municipal budgets? A lot. Mario Moretto at the BDN explained things.

Lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee say they need to hear from us before they change the Governor’s proposal. If you need help being heard just let me know.

Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future: The message is coming in loud and clear – testimony from business, education and non-profit leaders is consistent and urgent: Maine must make more efficient and effective workforce training investments, building on existing successes, and supporting private sector solutions where possible. The latest testimony came from Educate Maine ( MPBN). Preliminary recommendations from the Committee are expected by month’s end.

In the State House: The Appropriations Committee passed a unanimous $153 million dollar supplemental budget for the current fiscal year – you can read the staff summary here, or coverage in the PPH and BDN. The BDN and LSJ editors both commented.

State Policy round-up: Maine Municipal Association won a court fight against the Maine Heritage Policy Center over 1st amendment issues involved in MMA’s use of tax dollars to fight citizen initiated tax cuts. Coverage in the BDN, as well as on The Maine Wire – the Wire story has a link to the full 56 page decision which suggests that the issues are better decided in state court, or even better yet in the political arena. Amy Fried commented.

· Ballot watch: The PPH editors urged an end to voter ID efforts; local lawmakers advanced a bill to require rank choice voting for statewide elections ( Forecaster).

· Bonds: Ethan Strimling commented on the Governor’s liquor bond proposal.

· Economic Development: Two new studies support establishment of a National Park east of Baxter State Park ( MPBN, BDN) – the BDN and PPH editors both commented. Nate Bowditch responded to a recent Forbes ranking by urging Maine to focus on its assets. The BDN editors and Alan Caron both commented on immigration reform as an economic strategy.

· Education: Maine student debt numbers were revised downward to 18th nationally ( BDN). Comment from the BDN editors on the ‘bridge year,’ Bridget Mullen on the success of TRIO and Mark Schwartz on creation of a state institute to capture K-12 excellence and spread what works.

· Energy: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has brought $34 million dollars to Maine ( PPH). The Governor wants to use any new fees generated by RGGI for residential fuel conversion, something the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee was receptive to ( BDN) – Mike Cuzzi also urged us to take a closer look. The Governor’s efforts to fast-track natural gas in Maine are advancing ( KJ, BDN).

· Environment: The DEP reported that it has reduced permitting times for many development projects ( BDN).

· Health Care: Maine has many parts of the federal Affordable Care Act already in place, but expansion of Medicaid remains at issue ( PPH). The ACA’s re-admission penalties may hurt some hospitals in Maine ( LSJ).

· Labor: The President’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage ( PPH) drew supportive comment from the PPH editors.

· Small Business: Angel investing in Maine was strong in 2012, but challenges remain ( BDN). The SBA had a strong start to the year in January, signaling a reviving small business sector ( BDN).

· Tax: The Taxation Committee voted along party lines to reject a capital gains cut ( BDN), and voted unanimously to kill a proposal to do away with sales tax on online purchases ( BDN). A progressive group released a poll showing Maine people want higher taxes ( PPH). Senate Minority Leader Mike Thibodeau and Mike Tipping each commented on what direction state tax policy ought to go.

Around the Region: SAPPI made a major $100,000 dollar gift to USM to support the school’s Pioneer Program, which provides scholarships to top math and science students ( PPH, BDN). Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth continued to assess natural gas proposals ( Forecaster).

· In Cape Elizabeth, the Council is looking anew at town center options ( Current), and also establishing new committees ( Forecaster).

· In Falmouth, the Council heard updates on plans for Route 1 renovations, including new stormwater needs ( Forecaster).

· In Gorham, lawmakers are holding a state budget forum on February 20th ( Current).

· In Portland, School Superintendent Manny Caulk shared his vision of making the City’s schools great. Caulk also will be dealing with state aid cuts as a result of the supplemental state budget ( PPH). Elsewhere:

· More comment on the Portland Community Chamber’s 2012-13 Portland Economic Scorecard came from David Farmer and Charles Lawton – Lawton’s comments promise deeper analysis in the coming weeks, something the Chamber is also doing;

· The City’s HHS staff presented more options for alleviating homelessness ( PPH). Jenna Nunziato commented on the Task Force report;

· The City’s hotel market is expanding, raising questions about saturation ( Forecaster, MPBN);

· A new proposal for Congress Square Park may be in the offing ( PDS) as a petition drive kicked off against the current plan ( PPH);

· A new Nova Scotia ferry service is getting closer ( PPH); and

· For the latest check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.

· In Westbrook lawmakers are holding a state budget forum on February 23rd ( Current)

Contact your local officials: Visit our website to find links to all your municipal and state house officials. Remember – if you don’t speak out, the people who represent you have no way to know what you think. So keep those email, calls and visits coming.

Back issues: Miss a Policy Update? Want to find that story or link that you lost track of? Just click here for recent back issues of Policy Update.

Feedback: What do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email to share your feedback with me – and thank you!

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. For more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber just click here.

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