Excerpts from Brookings Report Summary
Create a permanent Maine Quality Places Fund. Maine should create a $190 million fund and invest in four areas to:
The fund would be paid for by dedicating revenues from a 3-percent increase in the lodging tax, which would put Maine more in line with other tourism-oriented states.
Create an Innovation Jobs Fund
Maine should create a $200 million fund to grow more jobs through innovation, which is the driving force in modern economies. Most of the money - $180 million - would go into research and development, doubling Maine's current rate of investment. The remaining $20 million would go into business-led networks of emerging clusters that would help individual businesses to act as a group. This builds on something that we're already doing in Maine. Boat builders, for instance, are already working together on joint job training and marketing, while famously independent lobster fishermen are now marketing under the same banner. With a little help, these exceptional efforts could become the norm in bio-tech, organic farming, eco-tourism, green building and a variety of other emerging sectors that have real promise.
Create a Binding Government Efficiency Commission
Maine needs to modernize and overhaul state government and K-12 school administration, and reduce some aspects of local government duplication. A top-to-bottom overhaul of bureaucracies would not only improve service and finance needed investments, but could also make a down-payment on tax reform.
The commission would be modeled after the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which has won begrudging praise for its ability to reduce the nation's over-extended military infrastructure. The so-called BRAC commission reflects the fact that in some cases government cannot restructure itself without going outside of government for help. In this case, a high-level commission would undertake a rigorous analysis of the structure and cost of state government and make recommendations that would be subject to a simple up or down vote by elected officials.
Brookings estimates that Mainers could save from $60 million to $100 million a year with such a tough, extensive, thoughtful and binding review.
Savings would go toward investments in the Innovation Jobs Fund and toward tax reductions. Property tax relief should be earmarked to towns with a high percentage of un-taxable property. The income tax should be reduced by lowering the top tax rate and increasing the threshold that triggers the entry rate.
Provide adequate funds for towns and cities to shape their future
Maine's tradition of local control places enormous responsibilities on small communities. But many are being overwhelmed by growth and traffic. While thousands of Mainers volunteer on planning committees across the state, trying to manage growth in the town's best interest, they are too often working without adequate tools and resources.
The report recommends increasing the resources available to local communities to engage citizens in shaping their towns' future and implementing their plans. The funds would come from a small fee on all real estate transactions, when recorded at the county.
Having towns operate separately probably made more sense when people lived their lives largely within the confines of single towns. But it has some real limitations in the modern world where we live in one town and shop, work or learn in others, in a larger region. But how do we re-engineer government into thinking more regionally, while still preserving the best of our small town traditions? The report recommends offering substantial financial incentives, in a few pilot projects, to towns that fully commit to regional collaboration - not just in planning development, but also in reducing duplicating services. Among those incentives would be the option for towns to adopt a local sales tax, which could be used to lower property taxes.
The growth of rural and suburban areas has happened in part because we have made it difficult to build in older communities. Over the years, layer upon layer of confusing, conflicting and occasionally contradictory regulations have made it too expensive to build in town centers. This is particularly true about building housing in walkable neighborhoods near schools and services. Brookings recommends that state and local governments should work together to adopt a single building code that levels the playing field between new construction and rehabilitation and between older communities and open fields. The state should also produce model local zoning ordinances that encourage more growth in our existing communities and less in the rural areas.