‘Prosperity’ and ‘Quality Places’

(from Maine Townsman, January 2007)
By Jeff Austin, Legislative Advocate, MMA

The Brookings Report released by GrowSmart Maine in the fall of 2006 inspired the creation of two different working groups – one executive, one legislative – that have been looking at ways to turn various aspects of the Brookings Report into action.

The first group is the Governor's Council on Quality of Place.  The 18-member Council includes a variety of private-sector, non-profit, and public sector representatives.  The State Planning Office provided the staffing and gubernatorial direction to the Council.  The Council's website, including a list of members and a copy of its report, can be found here:  www.maine.gov/spo/qualityofplace/index.php

The Executive Order creating the Governor's Council on Quality of Place states:

“…in order to promote sustainable development the State's competitive strategy must focus on what makes Maine different and distinctive in the increasingly global marketplace; and will only do so by building on demonstrated strengths, by investing in them, and by creating opportunity through widely understood and supported investments in quality - in quality clusters and quality places….”

The second group is the Legislature's Joint Select Committee on Future Maine Prosperity.  This is a 15-member, bi-partisan, committee with legislators from a variety of committees.  It was staffed by the Legislature's Office of Policy and Legal Analysis.  The Committee's website can be found here:  http://janus.state.me.us/house/jt_com/prs.htm

The Joint Order creating the Legislatures Select Committee similarly reads:

“…the State of Maine possesses unique opportunities for innovative growth; and those opportunities raise issues that are normally placed before several different joint standing committees of the Legislature; and to capitalize on those opportunities, a focused, integrated and long-term approach is necessary to build sustainable prosperity for our State….”

The recommendations of each of these two groups are fairly long; below are summaries.

Quality Places

The report from the Council on Quality Places includes 19 recommendations in three broad policy areas – regional landscape conservation, community and downtown revitalization, and asset-based strategy development.

Regional Landscape Conservation

The first recommendation is for the state to research ways in which Maine can recognize and support private landowners who provide public access.

The second recommendation is for the State Planning Office (SPO) and Department of Conservation to study and promote the best existing regional conservation initiatives.

            Third, SPO is supposed to identify a "continuing funding stream" for the Land for Maine’s Future program.  The Council indicates that "approximately $20 million" per year would be adequate.

Fourth, the Council would like several aspects of LURC's land use planning to be reassessed and reviewed including the "subdivision exemption" and LURC staffing levels.

Fifth, the Council would like SPO to lead an effort to "align" the state land use statutes with the Quality of Place concept.  The statutes to be reviewed include: LURC Law, Site Location of Development Law, the Sensible Transportation Policy Act, the Growth Management Act and the Informed Growth Act.

Community and Downtown Revitalization

The first recommendation in the downtown revitalization policy arena is to "provide communities with development assistance" by increasing funding to support programs such as the MainStreet Maine initiative overseen by the Maine Development Foundation.  The State Planning Office is directed to evaluate and recommend options to support this increased funding.

The second recommendation is to "enhance historic preservation tools" by supporting an increase in the income tax credits for the rehabilitation of historic properties (for which there is pending legislation, LD 262).  The report notes that "an acceptable funding method must be found."  Apparently the Council does not believe that the income tax should absorb the burden of expanded income tax credits.

Third, it supports the recommendations of the “Resolve 46” steering committee regarding building code issues.  This is somewhat confusing since the Resolve 46 recommendations are very much in draft form at this point.

Fourth, SPO is directed to create a model mixed-use zoning code that would support downtown development.

            Preservation program.  The bond proceeds would be used for land acquisition, historic preservation and community enhancements (street lamps, etc.).  The Council did not identify the revenue stream that will be used to service the debt.  Presumably, the State’s General Fund would be the source of revenues to service this bonded indebtedness.

Sixth, the Council suggests that a Maine Intrastate Trail System be developed in conjunction with existing Land for Maine's Future and Maine DOT programs.

Asset-Based Strategy Development

First, the Council recommends that Councils of Government or other regional organizations that qualify as federal "Economic Development Districts" lead an effort to create "regional asset-based development strategies."  According to the report there are currently six such organizations in Maine.

Second, multiple Quality of Place Councils should be created within the COG/EDDs.

Third, the state should consider fragmenting and "devolving" grant-awarding functions that are currently consolidated at the state level down to the various regional COGs/EDDs. These grants include federal CDBG grants and Local Government Efficiency Fund grants. 

Fourth, the Council suggests that "a percentage of the state's revenue sharing that is set aside for the Fund for Local and Regional Efficiencies might be targeted " to the COGs to develop asset-based development strategies. 

Fifth, the Governor's Quality of Place Council should be made permanent.

Sixth, if supported by "the industry" the state should increase the lodging tax by two percentage points.  One assumes that the industry referenced is the lodging industry.

Seventh, the myriad of state functions which impact quality of place should be "organized to assure their effective coordination and mission-alignment with regional efforts".  They should also be committed to "devolving authority and block grants."  The report does not identify which state functions impact quality of place and are potentially  subject to reorganization.

Eighth, the university and community college systems should "examine" their current programs and make recommendations to the next session of the Legislature to ensure that higher education efforts are "effectively aligned" with Quality of Place job opportunities.

Next Steps

The Council was created by the Governor, its members were appointed by the Governor and it was staffed by the Governor's State Planning Office.  The extent to which the recommendations in the report are  advanced any further  is up to the Governor.  A recent press conference was held in conjunction with the release of the report.  There was no clear indication which if any of the recommendations that require legislative approval were going to be offered to the Second Session of the Legislature.

Prosperity Committee

The Prosperity Committee has proposed in draft form 11 findings, 21 general recommendations and 25 specific  recommendations in 11 policy categories. The 11 policy categories are:  Spending & Taxes, Innovation, Education & Workforce Development, Business Climate, Transportation & Land Use, Quality of Place, Collaboration, Energy, Legislative Process and Health Care.

The Committee met on December 12, 2007 to review the proposed recommendations and are scheduled to meet on January 2, 2008 to make a final review.

After that final review,  MMA will provide information regarding the recommendations and findings to municipal officials via the Legislative Bulletin and on the MMA website, www.memun.org   The draft recommendations, in hard copy, can be obtained from MMA.  Call or email Laura Vellieux for this information (lvellieux@memun.org or 1-800-452-8786 ext. 207).