Lawmakers reach agreement on $50 million jobs bond plan to boost small businesses, marine economy, protect clean water

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

April 16th, 2014 

Maine State Capitol. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine State Capitol. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Lawmakers on Wednesday reached an agreement on a $50 million plan to boost job creation by small businesses and invest in key sectors of the state’s economy and clean water infrastructure.

“Democrats and Republicans came together to make critical investments in our economy,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves. “This is a positive step towards boosting jobs by building on the best of Maine.”

The plan is made up of six separate measures.

The largest of the six bond proposals would invest $12 million to recapitalize the Regional Economic Development Loan Program and the Commercial Loan Insurance Programs — proven financing programs that help promising small business on the cusp of job creation access capital.

“The small business portion of the plan will push our economy forward by spurring job creation in the near-term. It’s just what Maine needs as it continues to shake off the effects of the recession, ” said House Majority Leader Seth Berry, the House chair of the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future, which developed five of the six elements in the bond plan. “Providing access to capital to innovative small businesses will help Maine grow good-paying jobs in 21st century fields.”

The workforce committee also developed proposals that build on Maine’s competitive advantages. One would invest $8 million for a lab at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension to assist farmers and foresters. The others would be granted on a competitive basis in the following manner: $10 million for biometric analysis to make the state a global resource for precision medicine; $7 million to create jobs in the marine economy and increase the sector’s capacity and sustainability; and $3 million to increase biotechnology workforce training and create a drug discovery and development facility.

The $7 million for the marine economy would include lobster and seafood processing.

“Lobster is an important natural resources for our state. The industry has had it tough,” said Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson. “I’m tired of seeing lobster leave the state for processing in Canada when Maine businesses deserve a fair shot do it here at home.”

Under the bond plan, clean drinking water infrastructure projects would see an investment of $10 million. Of that, $4.2 million would go to a revolving loan fund that would leverage federal dollars for upgrades to drinking water systems and wastewater treatment facilities, $5.4 million to upgrade deficient culverts that post safety and financial threats and impeded the passage of native fish species and other wildlife; and $400,000 for the restoration of wetlands that serve as natural buffers.

“This clean water bond is about natural resources, public health, fish passage, safety and jobs,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, the sponsor of the water bond bill that serves as the basis for this part of the plan. “This bond will have an immediate, measurable impact on our state. It has bipartisan support and the backing of a diverse group of folks including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Associated General Contractors of Maine, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and The Nature Conservancy.”

The full Legislature will vote on the bonds Thursday.