Members of the Maine Mayors’ Coalition said their organization is starting to gather steam, even as they gear up to try to use lobbying strength to stave off further losses in revenue sharing next year.
The group of 12 elected mayors met in Portland on Wednesday to discuss economic development strategies and began to develop an agenda for the next session of the Legislature that will begin early next year.
Last year, the group lobbied hard in a partially successful effort to get lawmakers to reject Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to suspend revenue sharing for two years. Some funding for the program was maintained, but Maine towns and cities still faced a sharp cut in state aid. Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, for instance, said state aid to his city fell from $6.1 million in 2012 to $4.1 million this year and could drop another $2 million next year unless state revenues turn around.
The coalition includes Democrats, Republicans an independent and mayors who are elected in non-partisan races, said Brennan, who helped found the group. To avoid partisanship, he said, the group seeks a strong consensus before lobbying the governor and lawmakers.
Wednesday’s meeting began with a somewhat bleak economic assessment from Charles Colgan, a professor of public policy and management at the Muskie School. Colgan said Maine’s recovery from the recession of 2009 is trailing even the weak national recovery. Only about one-third of the Maine jobs lost during the recession have been recovered, he said.
In addition, Maine’s status as the nation’s oldest state is beginning to affect its economic prospects, as more Mainers retire and not enough younger workers move to the state to offset the loss in the workforce. Maine needs net in-migration — more people moving into the state after accounting for those who leave — of about 2,400 people a year to provide a strong enough workforce to attract employers, he said. But the state is falling far short of that because of the number of young people who are leaving the state.
John Bubier, Biddeford’s city manager, said his city is trying to work within that limitation by courting smaller businesses that don’t require a large workforce.
He noted that Biddeford sponsors an entrepreneurial competition that includes a few months of free rent in downtown office spaces for winners. Aiming for businesses that only require a handful of workers at first, he said, means that labor isn’t as big of a factor.
Bubier noted that another group of the state’s cities, the Maine Service Centers Coalition, consisting primarily of city administrators, works with the mayors group, but leaves most of the lobbying to the elected officials.
“Frankly, they get the attention of the legislators more quickly than the management folks,” he said.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:firstname.lastname@example.org