GrowSmart Maine is geared up and engaging in the 125th legislative session! As we weigh in on key issues, we will post our progress and views here on our site. We hope you too will engage in the process, sharing your thoughts with us, and with your elected officials.
A few policy areas are key to our mission of promoting sustainable prosperity for all Mainers while promoting Maine’s unique quality of place. Some issues tie directly back to earlier work of GrowSmart Maine, based on the action plan outlined in Charting Maine's Future. Lock Kiermaier, our Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator, will be working with me to focus on those bills and proposals where we can most effectively make a difference in protecting Maine's unique quality places, while we all focus on growing our economy in a sustainable way, promoting sustainable prosperity for all Mainers.
By now you have heard the great concern and even outrage over Governor LePage's first phase of regulatory reform recommendations, much of which is aimed at undoing key environmental protections. We posted this list on our website so you could see them yourself. GrowSmart Maine had already identified several of these as priorities. Each proposal will come through the legislative process, and we will be reaffirming the need to protect our natural environment and our unique communities while we grow Maine's economy. Much more than a simple balancing act, GrowSmart Maine shares with you the belief that we cannot sacrifice the assets we cherish for short-term promises.
Although we will likely weigh in on dozens of specific bills, and a list of those bills will soon follow, here are the policy areas where we will be focusing most of our efforts. We will provide more specifics on each of these issues as the relevant bills come through the legislative process:
LAND USE PLANNING AND COMMUNITY INVESTMENTS
One of our priorities is removing the pending sunset from the very successful Historic Preservation Tax Credit. This program, currently set to expire in 2014, pairs a state tax credit with the existing federal tax credit, making investments in reuse of historic buildings financially feasible. This has resulted in numerous projects across the state, bringing new energy to our downtowns, while creating jobs, housing, and business locations.
Next on our list is thoughtful and effective implementation of MUBEC, Maine’s Uniform Building and Energy Code. Passed in 2008, and set to be phased in over several years, this set of building codes provides the consistent regulatory environment we know businesses need to thrive. Now that implementation has begun, potential flaws in the plans for roll out are becoming evident. We are committed to working with the building contractors, municipalities, and other stakeholders to ensure that this consistent regulatory framework is successfully brought to life.
Site Location Law is under fresh scrutiny this year. While we agree that some changes can be made to improve implementation of this regulation, GrowSmart Maine will be affirming the necessity of protecting our state's watersheds as development occurs. Specifically, we see the need for a tiered system of regulations, rather than the single “cliff” currently in place. Steps of regulation create a more effective and manageable way to ensure that Maine’s environment is protected while developers meet market demand for housing.
Maine's Informed Growth Act (IGA) is under fire, and GrowSmart Maine will be voicing our support for the goals of the program. The IGA was created in 2007 to empower local communities to study the impact of large retail space construction on their entire community. We believe providing this mechanism is still important, but acknowledge that making it an “opt in” process for municipalities who choose to participate may be a reasonable option.
Maine must continue to invest in research and development. Our for-profit companies, non-profit research entities, colleges and universities are all driving forces of our economy, yet we fall behind national trends in resources devoted to innovation; the development and commercialization of new ideas. GrowSmart Maine will continue to advocate for bonds which provide the essential state matching funds to leverage public and private dollars for these investments.
LAND CONSERVATION AND NATURAL RESOURCE SECTOR VIABILITY
Land for Maine’s Future is a proven success story, with investments in natural areas across the state. Some parcels were chosen for their unique contribution to our quality of place, and more recently lands which are also essential to the infrastructure of Maine's working waterfront and farms have been a significant component of these land conservation efforts. GrowSmart Maine will continue to advocate for making these investments in our rural economy and our quality natural places.
There will be opportunities as well for GrowSmart Maine to support other legislation aimed at strengthening our natural resource based business sectors. Protection of current use property tax programs is essential for those who earn their living from the land to maintain ownership. Other key components will likely be tied to facilitating value-added opportunities for our farms and fisheries. This may well include opportunities for value-added production, and we have already weighed in to support the rather obvious view that lobstermen should be able to store their traps on the docks where they work!
We hope you'll stay in touch and let us know what you're thinking. We at GrowSmart Maine promise to do the same.