Sunday, March 9, 2014
By SUSAN M. COVER MaineToday Media State House Writer
BANGOR — Democrat Libby Mitchell released a jobs plan Monday that focuses on locally grown food, more significant tax credits for businesses, and state borrowing to support roads and other projects.
One of five people in the race for governor, Mitchell told a small group of supporters at the party headquarters in Bangor that an expanded "seed capital tax credit" would help businesses create jobs.
"We have it now, but it's not big enough," she said. "We could expand it so that it could cover businesses who are growing and that can prove to us they can create sustainable jobs."
Monday's was the third in a series of policy announcements by Mitchell, who talked previously about government reform and education. She said she will talk about energy and the environment, and health care, at future news conferences.
Part of her plan focuses on agriculture: She said she wants to require that at least 25 percent of the food served in schools, prisons and state facilities to be locally grown or harvested.
"We need to expand these markets for our traditional industries as part of our culture heritage," she said. "The Farm and Bait to Plate Program will help farmers and fishermen."
She said she did not know what percentage of food now served in public facilities is local, but she wants it to be greater.
Her spokesman, David Loughran, said it's not possible to estimate how much it would cost to implement the program because commodity prices change and so would the amount of food purchased for each facility.
Mitchell's opponents on the Nov. 2 ballot are: Republican Paul LePage, who introduced his own plans for the state Monday; and independents Eliot Cutler, Kevin Scott and Shawn Moody.
Mitchell said the state Department of Labor already has a "rapid response" team that works with businesses and employees after companies close. She wants to get to struggling businesses before they close.
"Sometimes you want that in place prior to a business closing down," she said. "At the first sign of trouble, there's a central place that businesses can go within the governor's office to get help and keep that business alive."
The rapid response team would be part of a state department that Mitchell is proposing to create by combining the Department of Economic and Community Development and the State Planning Office.
The department would employ "business advocates" who would help business owners navigate state regulations. Mitchell said the new department would save money by allowing her to reduce the state work force and eliminate duplication.
On the issue of borrowing, Mitchell said she would present a "robust" bond package to support roads, bridges, ports, rail, drinking water infrastructure, and research and development.
As Senate president, Mitchell helped negotiate $44.3 million in new borrowing. In June, voters approved borrowing for roads, bridges, a deep-water pier in Portland, and rail. They will be asked in November to approve nearly $15 million in additional borrowing to support dental care and land conservation.
Mitchell said the state pays off bonds in 10 years and it must invest in roads and bridges. "The state has the capacity to pay bonds," she said. "We certainly do not issue bonds except in a very responsible way."
The state has $500 million in general obligation bonds, according to the State Treasurer's Office. Tax-supported debt per capita in Maine is $760; the national median is $936, according to the treasurer's office.
In Maine, general obligation bonds are paid back as part of the state budget and do not require a separate funding stream. Interest rates are not known until the bonds are put on the market.
In August, state Treasurer David Lemoine told legislators that interest rates on bond anticipation notes, which are borrowed before a regular bonding cycle, were at historically low rates.
The nontaxable short term bond anticipation note of $45 million is at a 0.27 percent interest rate. The taxable bond anticipation note for $24.5 million was secured for 0.49 percent. He said that in average economic times, the interest rate would be 4 percent or 5 percent.
Other parts of Mitchell's plan include investing in green energy, and a Management for Maine program to help train entrepreneurs.
"We just need a focus," she said. "I think our economic development in the past has been on one industry at a time. We're looking at development as a whole."
MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: email@example.com