CAPE ELIZABETH — No business would operate without a business plan; a document stating what is wanted and how to achieve it. A plan based on physical, economic and social conditions and the needs of customers is essential. Operating without a plan and the planners needed to prepare and monitor its implementation would be wasteful, inefficient and ineffective.

Similarly, no public sector organization should be without a comprehensive plan and a planning staff, Yet a legislative committee is working to recommend how to basically dismantle the State Planning Office, which currently is part of the governor’s office, and divide its comprehensive roles and responsibilities among other single-purpose state departments, such as economic development, transportation and natural resources.

Aside from defeating the purpose of statewide planning, it reflects a misunderstanding of the benefits of basic professional planning, business and public administration practice.

So what is comprehensive planning? First, it is not evil, undemocratic or unnecessary. It is positive, democratic and vital for our sustainability, whether economic or environmental. It is more than just a single-purpose administrative process.

Planning as a professional practice has its roots in architecture, public administration and business. It is referred to as city, urban or regional, environmental, and more recently, “community” planning to encompass geographic areas of planning.

It is the art and science of helping decision-makers – both public and private – make better choices about the issues within their geographic area of responsibility, whether it is a town, city, county, state, multi-state, national or international “community.”

Unlike single-purpose planning for transportation, housing, natural resources or social services, comprehensive planning – through its research, analysis and projections – looks at inter-related physical, social and economic factors that affect a community. Its aim is to serve the public interest, protect the environment and still develop economically by adding value and saving money.

Its scope is as broad as the scope of the level of government or business it serves. It seeks to balance competing demands for the use of resources. It helps decision-makers, whether citizens or elected officials, make things better.

Its practice and legal standing has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court since the early 1900s. It continues today in local and state governments, including in Maine, via state-enabling legislation. The legislation encourages local governments to prepare, adopt and implement a growth management program, including a comprehensive plan, to guide growth and development.

The comprehensive plan is a citizen-based, legislatively adopted document to guide the development and conservation of land use, transportation, facilities and services to meet citizen needs while protecting the environment and developing the economy. The University of Southern Maine offers a two-year graduate degree in community planning and development, just like more than 50 other universities in America and more internationally.

Comprehensive state planning typically focuses on land use because it is the basis for physical development, economic development, environmental protection and the location of social services (such as schools and hospitals). While some may argue this perspective is too broad and intrusive in local government, its practice is mandatory if the state is to meet statewide goals and invest and use its resources efficiently and effectively to protect the public interest.

State planning is part of a “creative tension” between the state and local governments or the public and private sectors to adopt better ways to live and work together in a free, yet responsible, society.

So if Maine is to have a clear goal to protect resources as well as develop economically, the governor and particularly the Legislature should not divide and dismantle the comprehensive planning function.

Rather, it should remain in the governor’s office and be tasked to prepare a state comprehensive plan for adoption – a plan that sets a long-range vision and can guide the single-purpose functions of the executive branch of government and set a context for local government action that is mutually beneficial. It should be a plan led by the governor, adopted by the Legislature and administered by professional planners to improve the effectiveness of single-purpose state government agencies and local governments.

Only with a state comprehensive planning office and adopted plan will the longer-term vision for Maine be realized and our resources protected and used more wisely for the benefit of all citizens.

– Special to the Press Herald