BRUNSWICK — Several common themes emerged last week as local business owners gathered in Brunswick to discuss the business climate in Maine and what can be done to improve it.
The “red tape removal” workshop was sponsored by the Southern Maine Midcoast Chamber of Commerce and invited business owners to submit ideas to a representative of Gov.-elect Paul LePage.
The most-often repeated issues involved the speed of the permitting process for new businesses and the attitudes of government employees tasked with facilitating the process.
“It really shouldn’t take two years to get a project approved,” said Ted Crooker of Harry C. Crooker & Sons.
Don Spann of Remax Riverside concurred and said, “There is a cost to our citizens to move forward, not just money but time.”
Representing LePage was Communications Director Dan Demeritt. He said the governor-elect wants to receive input from businesses because business owners are the ones dealing with state agencies and permitting processes.
“You can work with a ‘yes,’ you can work with a ‘no,’ but you can’t work with a ‘maybe later,'” Demeritt said.
He said LePage plans to create “business advocates” at the state level to “see all permits through.” Demeritt said the business advocates will be “incentivized” to help create businesses in Maine.
Several state agencies were singled out by the business owners, including the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Transportation. Priority Group LLC representative Jim Howard said working with the DEP “feels like you have an adversary” and is “not a friendly process.” He said the laws are appropriate, but the process needs to be changed.
Parkview Hospital representative Ted Lewis said a major issue for all hospitals in the state is a “huge amount of unpaid debt owed to hospitals from the Medicaid program.” He said the problem has led to layoffs. He also said repairs to the physical structures of some hospitals have not been completed in recent years due to a moratorium placed on Certificates of Need, or CONs, which allow hospitals to request expansions of buildings or services, Lewis said. The moratorium also froze hiring, he said.
“There wasn’t anything positive accomplished from that,” Lewis said, noting that an issue with doing away with CONs is that it could lead to out-of-state companies setting up competing clinics and health-care centers. “Most hospitals in Maine would not be favor or doing aways with CON procedures so anyone can come in.”
National Worksite Benefit Group representative Joel Allumbaugh noted services provided to people with Medicare and Medicaid are reimbursed at a reduced rate by the state, often leading to higher health-care costs to insured people.
“We are overpaying to make up the difference,” he said. “And the cost shift is not being addressed in any meaningful way.”
Allumbaugh said if the Dirigo Health were eliminated, private insurance costs could drop by 2.14 percent.
Topsham Selectman Don Russell said he was glad to hear business owners do not want to see laws changed, just the process. He agreed the speed of approvals is an issue, too.
Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Steve Levesque said he is glad to hear business advocates will be in place under LePage. He said aligning DEP regulations with the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines would be helpful, particularly in regard to vernal pools.
Levesque also said there is an “arcane sales and use tax” on airplanes in the state that will need to be changed if the state wishes to attract aerospace industry businesses.
State Rep. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said he is working on a bill to remove the tax.
Lewis also noted people do not always have a positive image of the business climate in Maine, or of the state itself. He said better, more welcoming gateways could help improved the initial impression.
Demeritt said each “red tape” workshop brings new ideas to the table, but said he is starting to see hear themes of finding balance between “quality of life and quality of opportunity.”
Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.