by Cathy Johnson, NRCM North Woods Project Director and Senior Staff Attorney
Good afternoon Senators Hill and Jackson, Representatives Rotundo and Dill, and members of the Committees. My name is Cathy Johnson. I live in Alna and am here today on behalf of the 12,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) in opposition to the Governor’s most recent biennial budget. Our major concerns are with the language amendments contained in Parts X through BB, though we also have concerns about fiscal appropriations.
Because this is the first time we have seen a merged budget of the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Department of Agriculture (DOA), we think more explanation is needed with regard to staffing changes. For instance, per our “back of the envelope” calculations, in fiscal year 2012 -13 the DOC and the DOA position count was 260 general fund (GF) positions, 44.5 federal expenditure (FE) positions, and 113 special revenue (SR) positionsâtotaling 135.176 full time equivalent positions (not including any changes made in supplemental budgets.) This budget calls for 249.5 GF positions, 43.5 FE positions, and 122 SR positions totaling 131.646 full time equivalent positionsâin other words 10.5 fewer GF positions, 1 fewer FE position, and 9 more SR positions, totaling 3.53 fewer full time equivalent positions. These changes are not simply numericâthey reflect substantive changes that require explanation. What are the reasons for these personnel shifts? How will these shifts affect programs? How do these shifts relate to the merger of the agencies?
The budget also does not account for positions that were moved from the State Planning Office to the DOC. Three positions relating to the Land for Maine’s Future Program were moved to the Commissioner’s office. Where are these accounted for in the budget? In addition, several (3 – 5) SPO planning positions were moved into the Land Use Planning Division, yet the total count for that division appears to include only positions that are associated with the former LURC. Where are the SPO planning positions in the personnel count? Shouldn’t the total budget personnel count for 2014-15 be greater than 2012-13 because of these added SPO positions?
Members of the ACF Committee have requested a detailed organizational chart of the merged DACF. We strongly support that request. This chart would better inform all of us about the relationship of the merger and the budget, so that everyone can understand what positions have been eliminated or added. In addition to an organizational chart, we strongly recommend that the Department provide a one page summary showing how many positions from the prior Department of Agriculture and Department of Conservation have been eliminated, how many new positions have been created in the new Department of Agriculture Conservation, and Forestry, and what programs are affected by these eliminations and creations and how they are affected.
More information is also needed with regard to significant personnel transfers to the Office of the Commissioner. Reference numbers 215, 217, and 219 include transfers of public service coordinator positions from the Parks, Land Management & Planning, Forestry, and Maine Conservation Corps programs (among others) to the Office of the Commissioner. More information is needed on why these transfers are necessary and how the transfers will affect the programs as they currently operate.
What are the duties of the proposed new Assistant to the Commissioner for Public Information position? Part X of the proposed budget calls for the addition of this position. What are the duties of this position? Why is this position necessary? How does this position relate to the multiple other positions that are proposed to be moved from the substantive program areas to the Commissioner’s office (see previous paragraph.) These questions must be answered in order for an informed decision to be made.
Finally, with regard to fiscal appropriations, the budget should include funding for a Land for Maine’s Future Director. Once the Governor releases the LMF bond funds that have already been approved by the voters, this program will be overseeing the use of close to $10 million. A program with this financial responsibility deserves a full time director, as it had for two decades. There is significant support for the reinstatement of a full-time LMF Directorâthis should be reflected in the budget. Currently, Deputy Commissioner Ed Meadows is serving as interim director. With Deputy Commissioner Meadows’s numerous responsibilities, LMF surely is not receiving adequate oversight and programmatic direction.
As for language amendments, our concerns are several. Part AA proposes to remove the contingent repeal requirement that would revoke Title 7-A if the Revised Statutes are not consolidated by December 13, 2014. NRCM recommends that the sunset provision not be removed. Deciding whether a revised codification should take place is a separate issue from deciding whether the merger should go forward. The Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee and then the full Legislature should decide whether moving forward on the merger makes sense prior to removing the sunset provision.
Do not open Maine’s state parks to cutting. Part BB of the proposed budget will open up Maine State Park lands to wood harvesting. Harvesting trees on park lands is a very bad idea. Our state parks are havens for Maine’s limited untouched forests and should remain so. They total only about 80,000 acres. The vast majority of Maine’s Public Lands which total around 550,000 acres are already available for timber harvesting. State parks are primarily for recreation and for providing a refuge for Maine’s wildlife and their habitats. Only limited harvesting demonstration projects are currently allowed in parks. Even this limited harvesting was very controversial when it was passed. Unlimited cutting on park lands is unnecessary, contrary to their primary purpose and will be met with even greater controversy than before.
The DACF’s mission should not be limited to stewarding Maine’s natural resources economy. Part Z of the proposed budget narrows the mission of the DACF to stewarding Maine’s natural resources economyâthe current mission is “to serve as the steward of Maine’s agriculture, forestry, water and land resources.” This narrower focus overlooks an essential function of the DACFâto steward the entirety of Maine’s natural resources for their own sake, not simply for their economic benefits. While programs such as the Land for Maine’s Future Program, the State Park system, the Maine Natural Areas Program, the Ecological Reserve system, Geological Services, the Land Use Planning Commission and other programs within the Department of Conservation often provide economic benefits to the state, providing economic benefit is not their primary purpose. The mission of the overall department that includes these programs should not be limited to promoting natural resource economic development.
Although not included in the budget language, there is an effort afoot to require the new Deputy for Conservation in the DACF to have forest management experience. We strongly oppose that. The DOC includes a wide variety of programs, some of which include timber harvesting and some of which do not. Requiring the Deputy to have forest management experience sends yet another message that the intent of this merger is to focus the department on the extraction of natural resources, rather than on the conservation and stewardship of those resources.
NRCM recommends that the Committees scrutinize this budget and ask a lot of questions, as the budget’s passage will mold the framework of the merged Department. As is, NRCM does not support the budget and urges the Committees to vote “Ought Not To Pass.”