by Pete Didisheim, NRCM advocacy director
Representative Koffman, Senator Martin, members of the Committee on Natural Resources, my name is Pete Didisheim. I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine and I am here to testify in opposition to L.D. 1089. We believe this bill is unnecessary and, if enacted along the lines of the “concept draft,” could result in a weakening of Maine’s ability to manage, protect and promote our natural resources and the businesses that rely on the quality of Maine’s environment.
Maine’s natural resource agencies comprise only about 2% of the State budget, and thus do not represent an obvious target for cost savings. This conclusion is supported by the Brookings Institution’s analysis of state spending. In preparing its report,
“Compared to other rural states, Maine does not appear to have higher-than-normal costs in this [natural resources] state service category.”1
The Brookings paper also said this: “After examining 21 different state and local spending categories in detail, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. In local fiscal policy, the big picture is basically primary and secondary education.”2 If budget reductions is the primary objective, then the natural resource agencies simply aren’t the place to look.
In many ways, we believe that L.D. 1089 amounts to trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Maine’s natural resource agencies have been squeezed hard in recent years, with in reductions in personnel, consolidations of administrative functions, and tight budgets – even as the mission of these agencies has become more important and complex than ever.
Given the cuts that have occurred at these agencies in recent years, we do not believe that there exists $2 million to $6 million in additional savings – as proposed by L.D. 1089 – unless the goal is to weaken the ability of the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Conservation, and the Departments of Inland Fish and Wildlife and of Marine Resources to do their jobs.
Maine’s natural resource agencies have a very diverse range of functions and services, from wetlands and watershed management to promoting agricultural research, from dam and reservoir safety to managing state parks, from issuing wastewater discharge permits to regulating forestry, issuing fishing permits, and controlling and promoting llivestock and dairy products. We are not convinced that this broad range of services and functions would be improved by putting them all “under one roof” – which appears to be an implied goal of L.D. 1089.
To the contrary, we believe there is a very significant risk that consolidation of the natural resource agencies would weaken Maine’s ability to provide the level of management and attention needed for our natural-resource based industries, our parks and public lands, and our State’s environment as a whole.
Given that Maine’s natural resource agencies do not appear to have “higher-than-normal” costs, compared with peer states, we believe that consolidation likely would result in bureaucratic reshuffling, institutional confusion, and diminishment of agency functions – without delivering cost savings.
For these reasons, we urge you to vote “Ought-Not-to-Pass” on L.D. 1089.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify. I would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.
1 Trostel, Philip, “Maine’s State- and Local-Government Payroll and Expenditure,” October 2006, p. 35. www.brookings.edu/metro/pubs/maine/payroll.pdf
2 Trostel, p 58-59.