Advocacy Update Jan 2014

Nancy speaks at the EPC press conference

GrowSmart Maine has been active in Augusta since before the Maine Legislature returned for the Second Regular Session of the 126th Legislature.   
In reviewing the 125-150 bills being presented this year, GrowSmart Maine narrowed our focus to the dozen or so issues most closely aligned with our mission and most likely to be impacted by our engagement.  
Here is a quick update on our work so far!

Historic Preservation Tax Credit (HPTC):
Tax Expenditure Review Task Force:  GrowSmart Maine attended several meetings of this task force in late 2013. The group, comprised of four legislators and nine others, was charged with identifying $40 million in savings for Fiscal Year 2015 through reduction or elimination of state tax credits, deductions and exemptions.  As you have likely been hearing in the news, one proposal is a $5 million cap on this credit.  According to the fiscal note for the 2011 extension of the sunset on this tax cap, there would be a $2.9 million reduction in these tax credits.  Given that the tax credit is disbursed over the four years following certification and completion of an historic rehab project, this would be a retroactive policy change with serious implications for the many projects eligible and for the credibility of the overall program.  GrowSmart Maine has been part of an active coalition arguing against this proposal with key members of the Legislature.  These conversations are ongoing and have been effective in demonstrating both the value of the tax credit for Maine’s economy and communities and in explaining the detrimental impacts of placing a retro-active cap on tax credits for completed projects.  The Legislature is weighing this and many issues as it works to fill a gap of potentially greater than $200 million in the FY15 budget.  The outcome will likely be incorporated into the state’s Supplemental Budget.
To view the recommendations of the Task Force:

Redefining “project” for the state HPTC:  GrowSmart Maine testified at the January 22nd public hearing for LD 1661, which would clarify the definition of a certified rehabilitation project.  This provided an opportunity to highlight the value of the HPTC beyond the immediate job creation and investments during the construction phase; to share with the Taxation Committee the positive effects this credit  provides in strengthening downtowns, pulling development pressure away from productive natural lands and managing the cost of providing public services.  In addition, we supported the intent of the bill, to clarify that a "certified rehabilitation project" includes the rehabilitation of a portion of a certified historic structure or complex of certified historic structures when undertaken in phases or by different entities. The date of the committee work session has not yet been set.
To view GrowSmart Maine’s testimony on this bill:

Livable, Affordable Neighborhoods:
A Resolve to Provide for Livable, Affordable Neighborhoods  — Over the summer and fall, GrowSmart Maine led a stakeholder group on LD 1528 with the bill’s sponsor, Representative Richard Campbell of Orrington.  We are pleased with the outcome of the Jan. 15th work session.   The Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted “ought not to pass” as the Resolve was not necessary.  Instead, the Committee Chairs will send several letters:

(1)    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.
(2)    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.
(3)    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.

Tax Deductions for Charitable Donations should not be limited
GrowSmart Maine testified this week on an important issue most Mainers are unaware of.  In last year’s budget language, income tax deductions were capped at $27,500.  This cap, which is in effect beginning in 2013, will have a significant impact on Maine’s non-profits, limiting donations and therefore the work that can be done.  GrowSmart Maine strongly supports LD 1664, to remove charitable donations from this cap. View our testimony here:

Municipal Revenue Sharing:  
An Act Related to the Report of the Tax Expenditure Review Task Force  Pursuant to PL 2013, c. 368, Part S
This bill title is a mouthful and the issue has serious implications for communities across Maine.  LR 2721, presented to the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs by its sponsor, Representative Peggy Rotundo, puts forward an alternative to the report of the Tax Expenditure Review Task Force.  This proposal recommends various funding sources to bridge the $40 million gap so that municipalities do not see an additional $40 million cut in general revenue sharing for Fiscal Year 2015.  GrowSmart Maine spoke in favor of the bill, in part saying, "As we work with Maine communities, it is clear that towns can do little more than provide the most basic municipal services to their citizens. Their resources are already stretched too far and the $40 million cut to revenue sharing simply doesn’t make sense. LR 2721 offers a better option." View the full testimony here:

GrowSmart Maine spoke at a press conference by the Environmental Priorities Coalition.  Though not a coalition member, we spoke in support of LD 1455, An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Ensure Clean Water and Safe Communities.  The bill has the support of such diverse organizations as the Associated General Contractors of Maine, the Maine Municipal Association, the Maine Water Utilities Association, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine, The Nature Conservancy, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the Southern Maine Regional Water Council, Woodard & Curran, Sargent Corporation, the Maine Lakes Society, Maine Audubon, Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and many others. This bond, would invest $50 million in safe drinking water, storm and flood preparation, and recreational fisheries and waterfowl habitat in communities across the state.  Public Hearings for bond packages have not been scheduled yet – we'll let you know when they are.