Testimony of Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine related to of LD 390 “An Act Making Unified Appropriations and Allocations for the Expenditures of State Government, General Fund and Other Funds and Changing Certain Provisions of the Law Necessary to the Proper Operations of State Government for the Fiscal Years Ending June 30, 2018 and June 30, 2019”
March 10, 2017
Senator Hamper, Senator Davis. Representative Gattine, Representative Dunlap and members of the Joint Standing Committees on Appropriations and Financial Affairs and Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, my name is Nancy Smith and I am the Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine. We are a statewide non-partisan, membership-based organization whose mission is to build lasting prosperity without sacrificing the quality of life that defines Maine.
I am attending today’s public hearing in order to learn more about the changes proposed within the Dept of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and to raise several concerns for your consideration. In our advocacy, we support legislation that improves Maine’s economy, protects its distinctive character, strengthens communities and enhances our state’s quality places. In short, we support proposals that bring long term solutions over short term fixes and it is with this perspective that I testify on the budget for the Dept of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
To begin broadly, I express caution over the reduction both in staffing and funding for the department, and for the shifting of some positions from dedicated federal revenue to state general revenue funding. These proposals can be challenged through the lens of economic impact, to ensure we are not reducing necessary resources for farmers and agricultural enterprises to be successful and sustainable, and to ensure our state parks and public lands continue to be significant draws for both Mainers and visitors, creating significant economic activity for businesses in the tourism sector and related tax revenue.
More specifically, I would like to address the Municipal Planning Assistance Program (MPAP). Here, too, I will note changes detrimental to Maine’s lasting prosperity by limiting assistance for municipalities. Some staff positions are being moved to Dept of Marine Resources, with a focus and funding from the Federal Coastal Program. This shift in itself may be productive, tying resource management with community development. However, I would encourage you to consider how planning assistance for inland communities will be funded and supported, and coordinated with the Coastal Program. In addition, it is my understanding that one of these transferred positions will be shifted from community to aquaculture –a worthwhile area of focus, but resulting in a loss in capacity for community support. It is also noteworthy that federal proposals to cut NOAA could well results in cuts to the Federal Coastal Program, putting this work at risk if we are solely dependent on federal funds.
In addition to staffing cuts, the proposed budget eliminates nearly $160,000 in grants from the MPAP to the state’s Regional Planning Commissions (RPCs). From my experience with GrowSmart Maine as well as in my volunteer work on various committees in my hometown of Monmouth, I can attest to the value of these regional commissions in supporting communities as they address challenges and opportunities for economic growth and community development. For many towns, the RPCs offer invaluable perspective and expertise in how to support economic activity while creating and maintaining a quality of life that will keep and draw in residents. RPCs are particularly well suited to connect andsupport communities in their service area interested in exploring regional cooperation. Continued reduction in Revenue Sharing to municipalities is a more significant issue as well, in its reduction of municipal capacity and increases strain on property taxes.
Within the budget, there is a bit of good news to highlight related to the MPAP. The current budget proposal, on page 19 of Part A, includes one-time funding of $5million to the currently unfunded Fund for Efficient Delivery of Local & Regional Services for each year of the 2018-2019 biennium. In addition, the budget funds a comparable program for school efficiencies at $5million for each year of the biennium. Also of note, Rep. Gay Grant’s bill, LD 328, would provide $25million to the Fund for Efficient Delivery of Local & Regional Services in FY18. This bill was heard in State and Local Government last week and is awaiting a work session to consider recommendations to improve the program. I have attached Rep Grant’s testimony on this bill to my testimony here because she provides a narrative of the purpose and history of the Fund.
What is relevant to this hearing is the value of both the MPAP and the Regional Planning Commissions in supporting and guiding municipalities through development and implementation of regional collaborations. It simply does not make sense to cut the $160,000 of funding for RPCs and to cut positions at MPAP, particularly if we continue to underfund Revenue Sharing and invest millions of dollars in encouraging regional efforts. Perhaps, and it is unclear to date, portion of the annual allocation of $5million in the budget, or $25 million in Rep Grant’s proposal, is intended to support this essential support infrastructure. If so, that clarification would be most appreciated and supported.
As a relevant side note, GrowSmart Maine fully supports the value of the wood products sector to Maine’s economy and the sustainability of our rural communities. I include here a flyer outlining an upcoming forum on the New Forest Economy, hosted by GrowSmart Maine and E2Tech. We would love to have you attend, and are offering free registration to Legislators.