Friday, April 18, 2014
By KENNETH FLETCHER
AUGUSTA - One of the largest inhibitors, if not the biggest obstacle, to job creation in Maine is high energy costs.
Gov. Paul LePage has shown a commitment to expanding energy efficiency efforts, allowing Mainers to take control of their energy futures. LePage knows that Maine needs to lower its energy costs so our businesses can prosper and create jobs for Maine people.
Maine consumers have shown widespread support for using the programs of the Efficiency Maine Trust to improve energy efficiency. In fact, the governor's energy legislation expands the existing voluntary contribution program of the Renewable Energy Fund, allowing individuals and businesses to be able to contribute to fund the energy efficiency investments.
Why, then, would LePage be accused of undermining the Efficiency Maine Trust and putting conservation efforts at risk with this legislation?
The answer: LePage is dedicated to bringing accountability and transparency to Maine's government, ending years of irresponsible spending of Mainers' taxpayer dollars.
The bill would change language so the Efficiency Maine Trust is consistent with other quasi-state agencies.
The chairman of the trust also would be appointed by the governor. It is critical that all agencies that manage public money are held accountable by elected officials. This is also consistent with other agencies, such as the Maine Turnpike Authority.
If this bill is passed, the annual budget of the Efficiency Maine Trust would be reviewed and approved by the Legislature, the same as other quasi-state agencies.
With $88 million of public funds to administer, the Efficiency Maine Trust should be held to the same standards as other agencies. Effective and efficient oversight is the responsibility of the Legislature. Lawmakers should have a say in how these public dollars are spent.
The Efficiency Maine Trust was established for the purposes of developing, planning, coordinating and implementing energy efficiency and alternative energy resource programs in the state.
However, the Efficiency Maine Trust, with $88 million in public monies, is not held accountable by the same method as other agencies. Unlike what was suggested in recent editorials, the Maine Public Utilities Commission does not oversee the financial budget or approve fees/taxes of the Efficiency Maine Trust. The Legislature has provided the oversight in the past and should continue to do so in the future.
It is not too much to ask, given recent stories on irresponsible spending of public money, to bring accountability and transparency to Maine's quasi-state agencies.
The stories of careless spending by these agencies have become all too familiar. Gift cards at the Maine Turnpike Authority and massages at the Maine State Housing Authority are not efficient or appropriate uses of Mainers' hard-earned money. Maine people deserve better.
Much like the federal government, Maine has limited resources. LePage is making tough decisions to put Maine back on a pathway to prosperity. Maine people should be assured that every tax and ratepayer dollar is being used responsibly, which is what this bill does.
The governor's legislation is simply instilling measures to make sure the Efficiency Maine Trust is held accountable to Maine people. Asking for an agency to be held accountable by elected officials is not "interfering with efficiency." It is showing leadership and assuring the Maine people that their hard-earned dollars are not padding the pockets of bureaucrats and special interest groups in Augusta.
The Efficiency Maine Trust should not be exempt from being held accountable by elected officials. Maine people deserve the right to know that public servants are spending their money responsibly, especially when the budget of the Efficiency Maine Trust is $88 million.
LePage's energy legislation includes pro-job creation proposals, increases transparency for Maine ratepayers and makes fiscally responsible reforms to one of Maine's agencies.
Energy conservation is an important goal and one that LePage supports. However, we must make sure that the use of ratepayer and taxpayer dollars for energy efficiency is responsible, transparent and cost-effective.
Kenneth Fletcher is director of the Maine Office of Energy Independence and Security.