Politics

December 10, 2012

Portland wants state to hear urban voices

The mayor taps into coalitions and he plans to coordinate with the city's legislators to advance Portland's interests.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and other city officials are gearing up to lobby the Legislature on several key issues in the upcoming session, including charter school funding, revenue sharing, bonds and business tax breaks.

Senate President Justin Alfond, left, a Portland Democrat, will be among those meeting with Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, right, to talk about city priorities.

Staff File Photos

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PORTLAND’S PRIORITIES

Protecting and increasing revenue sharing

Protecting the city from possible threats to public education funding posed by charter schools

Obtaining bonds to improve the working waterfront, upgrade stormwater systems, and fund research and development

Instituting a regional sales tax

Pursuing regional tax increment financing

Expanding the so-called circuit-breaker property tax relief program

With Democrats back in control of both legislative chambers, and Justin Alfond, a Portland Democrat, serving as Senate president, the prospects for Portland and other urban areas to make gains appear to be improving.

"I look forward to making sure the economic hub of Maine has a strong voice," Alfond said. "As Portland goes, so goes the state."

Brennan, city councilors and staff will meet with the city's 10-member legislative delegation on Thursday. It will be the first meeting since the November elections, which returned Democrats to power in both the House and Senate.

"We're going to talk to them about what we see are the priorities of the city," Brennan said.

Back in October, the City Council's Legislative Committee discussed priorities for the upcoming session.

Initiatives included pursuing a regional sales tax, regional tax increment financing programs to encourage economic development, and expanding the state's so-called circuit-breaker program to help reduce property taxes.

The committee also expressed interest in continuing the city's opposition to charter schools by trying to repeal the enabling legislation or removing the public funding mechanism that would direct money earmarked for public schools.

If those efforts fail, the city could advocate for charter schools to be funded by a separate line item in the state budget, rather than by existing education subsidies.

Both Alfond and Brennan are concerned about the potential impact of Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, slated to open next fall in Portland. The opening of that school could reduce the city's public school budget and increase local property taxes because the state education aid for each student attending the academy will follow that student to the academy.

"The mayor and I have been very carefully watching Baxter Academy because it will have a huge financial impact on Portland residents," Alfond said, noting his desire to see charter schools succeed.

"Equally, I want to make sure our public education stays incredibly strong and fully funded," he said.

Brennan said protecting revenue sharing to municipalities and increasing Portland's share of those funds are also priorities.

Alfond and Brennan also noted the need for bonds, especially along the city's working waterfront where dredging, infrastructure upgrades and incentives to keep ground fishermen here are needed. Bonds for research and development, and upgrading stormwater systems will also be sought.

Brennan would also like to see a bill passed to allow regional tax increment financing, an incentive for economic development that returns property dollars to developers or regions without affecting state subsidies for education and the like.

While the city's agenda seems ambitious, Brennan argues otherwise, since more than half of the state's gross domestic product is produced in Sagadahoc, Cumberland and York counties.

"I don't know I'd say it's ambitious," Brennan said. "I think it's one that's strongly supported in terms of the role Portland plays in the regional economy and the state's economy."

In addition to discussing priorities, Brennan said he is interested to hear what committee assignments the Portland delegation will seek.

Some of the more influential committees include appropriations, taxation, health and human services, and -- for Portland -- the marine resources committees, he said.

Alfond said committee assignments will be made public on Dec. 17.

CIRCLING THE WAGONS

Over the last year, Brennan has been building coalitions statewide that could give the city more pull.

He, along with Bangor Mayor Cary Weston, formally organized a coalition of 10 mayors from Portland, South Portland, Biddeford, Saco, Westbrook, Lewiston, Auburn, Waterville, Augusta and Bangor.

(Continued on page 2)

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