2016 Advocacy Update

capitol sunsetThe 127th Maine Legislature is in its Second Regular Session, and GrowSmart Maine is weighing in on bills in several legislative committees, all with an eye towards strengthening and supporting Maine’s economy, communities and environment.

We are engaging in several bills in Energy, Utilities and Technology.  You may recall that last session there was quite a bit of work on investment in broadband because of its value for the economy, healthcare and education across Maine.  Many of these bills have been carried over to this session so the work continues, with a work session scheduled for this afternoon on LD 826 An Act To Promote Maine’s Economic Development and Critical Communications for Rural Family Farms, Businesses and Residences by Strategic Public Investments in High-speed Internet. GrowSmart Maine is an active member of the Maine Broadband Coalition, an informal alliance of public policy professionals, educational institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals who care deeply about Maine’s economic future. An important purpose of the MBC is to assemble cogent, fact-based information to help public policy makers and Maine citizens make the best choices about building a robust and productive information technology infrastructure — decisions we are all facing right now. Learn more, and consider joining, at http://mainebroadbandcoalition.org/

This committee is considering a variety of bills related to solar energy, and will hear recommendations of the PUC solar stakeholder group later this year.  We find that our participation in the 2015 Denmark Climate Tour, on which our 2015 annual meeting was based, has provided a strong community-solutions basis for our advocacy on these issues.  We spoke in opposition to LD 1398, which would have re-written how Regional Green Energy Initiative funds were spent, diverting them from reinvestments in energy savings to a simple rebate for business ratepayers.  Rebates for energy efficiency investment, for residential and business customers, is the best investment of these funds – it is not additional state spending, as described by supporters of the bill, these reimbursements create a public/private investment in reducing energy costs across Maine.  You can read testimony submitted on this bill here:  https://growsmartmaine.org/blog/testimony-of-nancy-smith-executive-director-of-growsmart-maine-in-opposition-of-ld-1398-an-act-to-reduce-electric-rates-for-maine-businesses/

The Taxation committee is addressing two bills of interest this month.  We observed the work session as committee members began discussion of how to fund the 2015 Clean Elections referendum, as the bill language called for funding of $3 million annually to come from business incentive programs identified by the committee as “low-performing, unaccountable tax expenditures with little or no demonstrated economic development benefits as determined by the Office of program Evaluation and Government Accountability”.  Our interest in this is primarily to ensure that high performing programs with clear benefit to Maine communities are not at risk.  We see these as the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit (watch for an updated economic impact report to be released soon!) and the New Markets Tax Credit.  Discussions among committee members and with a few members after the work session indicate that these programs will likely not be part of any proposal to come of out of the committee, due to OPEGA’s upcoming review of the New Markets program and the proven value of the Historic Rehab Tax Credit program.  The committee will meet again on this issue on January 27th.

In other advocacy news:
Aging in Place, land lines are life lines.  We heard from Jess Maurer at Maine Association of Agencies on Aging that there is an opportunity to protect Maine seniors at risk of losing their basic phone lines.  Last legislative session, there was an effort by Fairpoint to eliminate their obligation to be the “provider of last resort” – meaning that they need to ensure landline service in remote areas where other phone service might not otherwise be available.  Landline service is critically important to rural seniors, not just for socialization and access to needed emergency services, but also for medical monitoring of certain health devises like pacemakers and implantable cardiac defibrillators.  The bill was carried over to this session to see if folks could reach an agreement on the issues.  No agreement was reached and the bill will be considered again this session.  AARP Maine has issued a petition opposing this change and is collecting signatures from folks who want to make sure landline service remains available to our most rural older adults.  You can learn more, and sign the petition here:
https://action.aarp.org/site/Advocacy;jsessionid=9CC07964DBD4C36D6120A689BDB080DC.app262b?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=5491

GrowSmart Maine is continuing work begun several months ago with the Maine Development Foundation and many community supporters to ensure continued public/private investments in Maine’s downtowns as the administration plans to defund downtown revitalization as part of the Community Development Block Grant program, effective July 1st.  This change will eliminate $400,000 in community grants and $100,000 in support for the Maine Downtown Center, a program of the Maine Development Foundation that serves as the state coordinator for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program and works to advance preservation-based economic development in Maine downtowns.  Downtown revitalization is a critical component of our work, because economically strong Main Streets are the places were businesses thrive and where so many Mainers are choosing to live, close to work and schools, restaurants and shops. Here in Maine, these downtowns, be they village centers or bustling city streets, are close to the natural landscapes that add to the economy as well as to our quality of life.  Stay tuned on this issue, and consider contacting your legislators to see if they are aware of this issue.   Here is the link where you can find contact information for all elected officials:
http://www.maine.gov/portal/government/edemocracy/lookup_voter_info.php