Panel rejects bill to help establish SMCC at Brunswick base

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BRUNSWICK — A short legislative session, combined with state lawmakers’ aversion to bills with fiscal notes, has all but doomed a proposed bill to aid Southern Maine Community College’s new campus at Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The Legislative Council last week denied acceptance of a $4 million bond proposal that would fund SMCC’s planned Advanced Technology Campus, a joint venture with the University of Maine’s engineering school that would double as a new college campus and business-attraction hub.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, the would-be sponsor, said he is attempting to appeal the council’s decision.

If Gerzofsky is successful, the bill will be considered by the state Legislature. If not, he said, the SMCC campus at the base could be delayed. 

“I’m trying to convince the council that this bill is about jobs, not just education,” said Gerzofsky, adding that SMCC is also expected to face a $500,000 funding curtailment this year because of state revenue shortfalls. 

Gerzofsky said funding in the bill would allow SMCC to begin hiring professors and staff for the new campus. The legislation would be combined with an another $4.75 million bond included in Gov. John Baldacci’s proposed $150 million spending package. The latter, dubbed “the responsible reinvestment plan,” is the governor’s version of the federal stimulus package. Voters will be asked to ratify the package in June 2010. 

Gerzofsky said both bonds are important to start the SMCC campus. The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the agency implementing the BNAS civilian reuse plan, has said the SMCC-UMaine campus is vital to recruiting tenants at the base because the school will be able to tailor its curriculum to train future employees. 

That argument, Gerzofsky said, will be central to his appeal to the Legislative Council.

“The $4 million is just a starting point,” Gerzofsky said. “I think the (Legislative Council) knows we’re right on the issue. They just think we’re wrong on the money.”

The council is expected to hear Gerzofsky’s argument in November. The senator said he plans to meet with presidents of the respective schools to work on an alternative strategy if his case is unsuccessful. 

The Legislative Council approved another bill related to base redevelopment. The bill, which will be heard next session, would align the state statute governing Brunswick base redevelopment with that of the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. It also adds language that will allow MRRA to take over the airfield at BNAS. 

MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said the airport language is closely modeled after regulations at Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth, N.H.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or