March 10, 2021

Oped by Ramona du Houx

Maine is the top state in the Northeast in which to start a small business, according to Motley Fool in a Jan. 19 analysis by Blueprint, a small-business website run by the financial publisher. While Maine’s score of 4.81 on a 10-point scale is only mediocre nationwide, it’s higher than any in the region — just edging New York, which came in at 4.76.

The analysis rated each state on six factors: tax climate, consumer spending, growth rate of new entrepreneurs, business survival rate over five years, labor costs and climate change impact.

What’s striking is that Maine excelled when it came to business survival rate, receiving a 7.40. Most new businesses fold within 5 years. The study didn’t have a metric for rating community support — that should be a key indicator. Neighbors helping neighbors, like minded folk getting together and fulfilling a project that revitalizes their downtown, and special friends who help one another by being there for them and believing in their dream — is Maine. This community spirit is in abundance and has enabled the creative economy of Maine to flourish. This community extends to business support systems and elected officials who are approachable.

The state is small enough if a constituent has an issue, they can go directly to their state representative or state senator. The thought of accessing someone in the state legislature in California or New York is technically possible, but logistically hard. In Maine it’s a phone call away. That’s where many ideas that are proposed in the Maine Legislature are born. “Of the people, for the people, and by the people,” is practiced in the state. It adds to the success rate of small businesses.

Yet the state known for being “vacationland” has business costs that would make many shy away. Despite decades of weatherization efforts, the majority of small businesses, and homes lack insulation from the winter weather and still rely on fossil fuel for heat. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has brought in over $127 million in a cap-n-trade system that makes fossil fuel power plants and other emitters pay for allowances, saving consumers and businesses funds. The program started with the Baldacci administration in 2009 and the funds were directed into Efficiency Maine, for weatherization efforts.

Now, with Governor Mills, Efficiency Maine is promoting heat pumps and electric vehicles. Mills used the Volkswagen multi-state settlement to fund EV power stations and incentives for EVs. For the average Mainer, heat pumps and electric vehicle’s (EV’s) are out of reach even with incentives from Efficiency Maine.

As of 2020, 80 percent of households and businesses still use oil, kerosene, or propane as their primary source of heat. The state remains more reliant on fossil fuels for heat than any other: 60 percent of households heat with oil, 12 percent with propane and 8 percent with natural gas. This costly dependence exacerbates the climate crisis, degrades air quality, hurts everyone’s health and sends more than $2 billion a year out of the state.

In order to improve the quality of life for all Mainers, and the business climate heating costs must dimmish. The offshore floating wind platforms are still projected to supply all Maine’s heating needs, as well as export the excess energy to other states. An Environment Maine new study confirmed the University of Maine’s projections for offshore wind potential. Feasibly, we could heat our homes and businesses and drive our cars powered by offshore wind. That transition will cost — that’s where the Transportation and Climate Initiative can help.

As the leading contributor to climate pollution Maine’s transportation sector is in urgent need of transformation. There are several promising proposals, including a bipartisan regional effort known as the “Transportation and Climate Initiative” that seeks to cut pollution from cars and trucks and invest in cleaner, healthier and more equitable transportation solutions. Maine has yet to commit to the program, yet the TCI initiative is projected to bring in $300 million to 12 states and D.C. annually. TCI works like RGGI. Here the revenues generated would come from fossil fuel companies.

The cost of shipping for manufacturing businesses remains high. The old statement, “you can’t get there from here,” is common amongst Mainers. People in Maine need more public access to transportation. Improving our transportation sector by modernizing it, will improve our business climate, while helping everyone get there from here. TCI allows states to decide where their proceeds would be put.

A project to improve railroad lines along existing corridors, so more passenger rail can become a reality. The proposal by Bangor State Senator Joe Baldacci to extend passenger rail to Bangor could become a reality. Now, it’s undergoing a feasibility study. The project would extend Amtrack’s Downeaster, which  set a record high for ridership in 2019, with 574,000 passengers before the pandemic. Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority has also considered a pilot project to test service to Rockland. Both would spur economic development and help small businesses.

New railroad lines could be laid and shipping costs diminish. School and local municipalities buss fleets could become electric. Even an EV bus transit system could happen with yearly proceeds from TCI.

All across the region health outcomes will get better as pollution is curbed. The TRECH Project Research study of TCI, found that the initiative will cut carbon-dioxide emissions from transportation by as much as a quarter by 2032, thereby leading to much cleaner air and healthier communities.

On Monday December 21, 2020, several of the participating states released a Memorandum of Understanding to officially sign onto the final framework for TCI. The states have been in consultation for years. While Maine remains actively involved in discussions, Governor Mills has yet to sign the MOU agreement. The Transportation Working Group of the Maine Climate Council recommended that Maine continue to monitor TCI as it is developed, as well as other transportation-funding solutions.

It’s time Governor Mills took action. There’s no reason not to join.

The majority of Mainers understand that TCI is important:

  • poll released in December 2020 from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and ClimateNexus shows that 56 percent of Maine voters support Governor Mills joining TCI. This same poll showed voters support transportation investments as an integral part of our recovery from the pandemic.
  • poll released by the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) in early 2020 showed 81percent of Maine voters support building a statewide bus network connecting cities and towns. A broad majority of voters showed similar support for other clean transportation solutions, including electric cars, safer paths for people biking and walking, and locating services closer together to reduce driving.
  • Another poll released by the Maine Trails Coalition showed 86 percent of Mainers favor creating a statewide network of multi-use trails on unused rail corridors, if the trails could be converted back to railroad use if needed.

Urge your state representative to let Governor Mills know you back TCI or contact her office directly.

RGGI is highly successful. There’s every reason to believe, and studies have shown, TCI will be too.