AUGUSTA — A working group has signed off on a plan to replace the State Planning Office with one that would try to save money by making government more efficient. The proposal by Gov. Paul LePage must still be approved by the Legislature.

The State Planning Office was created in 1968 to advise the governor and state lawmakers on state economic and natural resource policy. It employs the state economist, provides technical planning, code enforcement and floodplain assistance to cities and towns, and analyzes state policy. Among other things, the office led Democratic Gov. John Baldacci’s efforts to develop a tax reform plan.

LePage wants to replace it with an Office of Policy and Management, which would search for government inefficiencies and quantify resulting savings each year by eliminating them, said Jonathan Nass, a senior adviser to LePage.

“What the governor is looking for is something along the lines of the Office of Management and Budget at the federal level, without the budget piece,” Nass said.

The working group’s plan would eliminate nine jobs, six of them funded by the General Fund and three by special revenues that support the state’s waste management and recycling programs. The other 29 planning office employees would either be transferred to the new policy office or divided among existing state agencies where they would continue to perform many of the same functions they do now.

The $750,000 saved by eliminating the nine planning office positions would be used to launch the new office, which would employ six to 10 people, Nass said.

The planning office is on Union Street in Augusta in the former federal Department of Labor building.

The Part FF Working Group, headed by David Emery, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, unanimously endorsed the final plan for the new office. But parts of the plan were criticized by the Attorney General’s Office, current and former planning office employees and the Maine Association of Planners.

Three of the jobs eliminated at State Planning would be taken over by Department of Environmental Protection employees, Emery said. Senior planner Ruta Dzenis said she doesn’t understand how the DEP could take on the waste management program jobs.

“It sounds like there are three people at DEP who don’t have anything to do,” she said. “You’re taking people with a track record and putting it with new people who have no contacts.”

Beth Della Valle, a former coordinator of the state’s Land Use Team, said the planning office provides a vital mission by serving as a “neutral ground” between those who want to conserve land and those who want to develop it. The proposal calls for the Land Use Team to be transferred to the Department of Conservation.

“The reason it is housed at State Planning is it is neutral ground,” she said. “The essence of planning is to find the sweet spot, find the balance.”

Addressing the State Planning workers who sat in the audience — all of whom took vacation time to attend the meeting — Emery said the proposal shouldn’t be interpreted as a judgment of their work.

“No one should take anything away other than great respect for the work you have done in the past,” he said. “The reality in state government today is there are a great many needs.”

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at [email protected]

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