AUGUSTA — State lawmakers have decided to postpone submitting any legislation that would require officials to develop a long-term economic development plan for Maine.

In a public comment session Friday, members of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee said more time is needed to work out the details of such a bill, including how the plan would be created and funded. They suggested that the issue be researched for a possible bill in the next legislative session.

At the meeting, lobbyists representing business organizations also raised concerns about a component of the proposed legislation that would require businesses participating in state economic development programs to provide data for benchmarking purposes. Members of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee and Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee also attended the meeting.

A state-sponsored report issued this month says that while economic development programs in Maine have helped many businesses, they often are regarded by businesses as confusing and difficult to find and use. It goes on to say that many businesses don’t trust the programs to make good on their promises because of frequent policy changes in Maine’s unstable political environment.

The 250-page report, conducted by Boston-based Investment Consulting Associates for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, says economic development programs that provide help and incentives to businesses are crucial to Maine’s efforts to attract and grow companies.

The report stressed the importance of a long-term strategic plan for economic development that would provide guidance to the state’s various economic development programs and give Maine officials a better foundation to gauge their effectiveness.

DETAILS NEED TO BE WORKED OUT

Committee members at Friday’s meeting agreed that a strategic plan would be useful, but they said there are several details that would need to be worked out before enacting legislation.

“We want to make sure the money we are spending … is really accomplishing the purpose we intend,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the oversight committee.

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is seeking to overhaul some aspects of the laws that are designed to evaluate and improve the state’s economic incentive programs. Proposed changes include:

 Requiring Maine to develop and maintain a formal economic development strategy.

 Creating a process for the Department of Economic and Community Development to collect data from organizations receiving assistance in order to evaluate their effectiveness.

 Granting the department the “authority and clout” to compel organizations to provide the requested data.

 Ensuring that government staff and/or elected officials act upon the results of the department’s evaluations and recommendations.

The administration also wants to combine two state-mandated reports on economic development and research and development programs into a single report and reduce the frequency of reporting from every two years to every four years.

BUSINESSES PROTECTIVE OF DATA

After hearing from business groups including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, the committee decided to move forward with the process of combining the two reports and spurring state officials to take action based on their recommendations.

However, the plan elements related to gathering business data and compiling a strategic plan are more complex and should be researched further before taking any action, the panel said.

The business groups expressed concerns that the state would require businesses which benefit from economic development programs to disclose sensitive information such as revenue and net income. They said many businesses consider such data proprietary and would not want it to fall into the hands of competitors.

“We do have a serious concern with data, and what data will be used here,” state chamber senior government relations specialist Linda Caprara said.