126th Legislative Session Wrap-up

The 126th Legislature adjourned sine die, “without day” on May 1st, completing work begun when they first convened in January of 2013.  This short session, intended for budget adjustments and emergency legislation, provided GrowSmart Maine with significant opportunities to support smart growth efforts across the state.  Here is a brief recap of the 2014 session:

Bonds for Innovation and Job Creation, with an environmental benefit:
GrowSmart Maine supported numerous general revenue bonds during this Legislative session.  In the end, several are moving forward and will support Maine’s economy and communities.  GrowSmart Maine will be supporting all the bonds approved as they move forward to Maine voters in November.

The economic development bond package was scaled back in final negotiations with the administration. Funding for Maine Technology Institute was removed late in the game, as was funding for the Maine Venture Fund earlier in legislative negotiations. GrowSmart Maine supports both of these programs, given their proven track records in transitioning start-ups to successful commercial ventures in Maine.

These bond proposals were finally passed:
A $12 million bond for small-business: financial assistance through the Finance Authority of Maine to fund two established programs that provide start-up and expansion capital to small businesses. This bond was vetoed by the Governor and the veto overridden in the House and Senate. In a separate bill, the Regional Economic Development Revolving Loan Program (REDRLP) has been updated to allow its use for expanded purposes that now include “revitalize downtowns and build strong communities and a sustainable economy”.  The REDRLP is now accessible by additional businesses, including those in commercial and mixed-use real estate and community facilities as well as value-added natural resource enterprises.  In addition, businesses with up to 100 employees are now able to make use of this program. These changes are contingent on the funding that would be provided in the Fall 2014 bond proposal.

An $8 million bond to fund efforts by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension to assist farmers and forestry.

A $20 million dollar economic development bond to include:

 

  • A $10 million bond to fund a competitive grant program for the development of a biometric research facility.
  • A $7 million bond to fund competitive grants to boost the state’s marine economy, including lobster and seafood processing will be on the ballot.
  • A $3 million bond to fund biotechnology workforce training and drug research and development.

A $10 million bond to fund various water initiatives, including the construction of culverts to aid fish passage, clean-water systems and conservation work.  The bond proposal became law without the Governor’s signature. You can learn more about this proposal at cleanwaterformaine.com.

Historic Preservation Tax Credit
No statewide cap for 2014/2015:  A proposed limit on the overall credit allowed in Fiscal year 2015 would have undermined the credibility of this program, which generates scores of Maine jobs each year while ensuring restoration and reuse of historic buildings. A one-year cap also risked crippling projects already completed and put into service based on the promise of these credits.  GrowSmart Maine was a leader of a coalition that worked for six months to demonstrate to legislators and the administration the contribution this tax provides to Maine’s communities, economy and environment.  Our thanks to all who assisted in this effort and to members and leadership of the Legislature and administration who responded to the information provided and removed this really bad idea from consideration.

New definition of a “project”: Projects eligible for the historic preservation tax credit are restrained by an upper limit that challenged the feasibility of rehabilitating large mill buildings. With leadership from the City of Lewiston and Maine Preservation, LD 1661 was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor LePage, refining the definition address large projects that take place over time, so that each phase is eligible for the credit. This updated definition will make the tax credit available for these significant undertakings.

Supplemental Budget for 2014 and 2015:

General assistance reimbursement for towns: As described in our February Advocacy update, "An Act Related to the Report of the Tax Expenditure Review Task Force", LD 1762, achieved final enactment with very strong votes in both the House and Senate.  This bill fills a $40million budget gap which otherwise would reduce the state’s general revenue sharing to Maine municipalities.  While GrowSmart Maine supports efforts to increase efficiency and collaboration in all levels of government, forcing immediate cuts in municipal budgets across the state would have severely impaired Maine communities.  This bill became law without the Governor’s signature.

Tax-deductible donations:

As we reported in April, the Maine Association of Nonprofits did a tremendous job in leading advocacy efforts on this important issue.  LD 1664 passed in the House and Senate and became law without the Governor’s signature.  It provides for the following changes to charitable giving tax policy:
  • For tax years 2013, 2014, and 2015, there is no allowable additional deduction for charitable donations above the $27,500 cap on itemized deductions.
  • For tax year 2016, donors will be able to deduct an additional $18,000 in charitable donations above the $27,500 cap.
  • For tax years 2017 and beyond, donors will be able to deduct the full amount of charitable donations allowable on their federal tax return.
 
Removing Barriers to Smart Growth Projects:
Smart Growth Policies and Projects at a Community Level:  As we reported in our January update, GrowSmart Maine led a stakeholder group on LD 1528 with the bill’s sponsor, Representative Richard Campbell of Orrington.  The Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted “ought not to pass” on the resolve and instead the Committee Chairs sent several letters, listed below. GrowSmart Maine will monitor progress related to these efforts and report back to the committee, as requested.
  • Letters to DEP and Municipal Planning Assistance Program (within the Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry) to encourage a patient sewer extension loan demonstration project with RFP for two such projects that have municipal and developer support.
  • Letters to FAME and MaineHousing encouraging them to sign a new MOU to make available an “upstairs/downstairs” financing mechanism so that a project with both housing and commercial use may be eligible for financing from both entities.
  • Letter to GrowSmart Maine encouraging further work and collaboration on this subject area and requesting an informal report back to the Committee next fall on how things have progressed with respect to the two above letters and general developments in this area.
New Models for Mobility and Transportation:
Legislation on this issue was vetoed by the Governor.  In its final form, LD 1365 would have created a Public Transportation Advisory Council to advise the MaineDOT in its review and approval of locally coordinated plans for regional transit as well as advise the department on statewide strategic transit planning.
 
We encourage you to keep in touch during the summer and fall, as we consider what might be ahead in the next legislative session.  GrowSmart Maine will be talking with our partners and allies to consider what pro-active steps might be appropriate, from educating those new to office on the value of the historic preservation tax credits to proposing ways to remove barriers to downtown revitalization and encourage strategic land conservation.  Please mark your calendars for the GrowSmart Maine Summit 2014, set for October 21st at the Augusta Civic Center, where you’ll find plenty to discuss and lots to learn!
 
filed under: Uncategorized