Baldacci’s plan for budget includes Cabinet changes


AUGUSTA (AP) – Part of the streamlining that Gov. John Baldacci is proposing in the budget package he unveils today will be a merger of two state departments with very different functions.

Administration sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the governor is calling for the creation of a Department of Commerce that would combine the existing departments of Economic and Community Development and of Professional and Financial Regulation.

Such a merger would bring together one agency that promotes business and another agency that regulates business.

Baldacci sought to make economic development a high priority in his first four-year term as chief executive and has promised to try to do more in his second term, which began with his swearing-in Wednesday night.

In his inaugural address, Baldacci said he will push for investments in key areas of the economy and improve the state’s competitiveness in the global marketplace by investing more in research and development.

“The Maine brand represents quality, pride, integrity, innovation and craftsmanship – things that the world today needs and wants more of. These are Maine’s competitive assets in the new 21st-century economy,” Baldacci said in his prepared remarks.

“If we preserve and enhance these unique assets, if we can develop and attract the kinds of businesses – from biotechnology to alternative energy, from new forest products to specialty foods – it will offer a truly sustainable prosperity,” the governor said.

Heading into the new term, administrative changes have included the reassignment of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Jack Cashman to a post in Baldacci’s own office and the selection of immediate past House Speaker John Richardson to take Cashman’s place at the Economic and Community Development Department.

The Department of Professional and Financial Regulation is currently led by acting Commissioner Anne Head.

The governor is due to submit General Fund and Highway Fund budget proposals today. Also upcoming are supplemental spending requests for the last half of the current fiscal year.

Mission statements posted by the two departments being proposed for merger highlight their differing responsibilities.

“DECD serves as the umbrella organization to the offices of Tourism, Business Development, the International Trade Center, Community Development, Film and Innovation and Science,” the department Web site says.

“In addition, we are proud of our Made in Maine program, which is recognized worldwide for its quality and integrity.

“Gov. John Baldacci’s top priority is to create economic opportunity for the people of Maine. DECD’s key role is to help make this a reality and to bring prosperity to all areas of the state. The governor’s Pine Tree Development Zone initiative is a new tool, that is helping us accomplish this.

“We look forward to making a difference and to getting the good news out about all that Maine has to offer.”

In contrast, the other agency statement focuses on fairness for Maine customers and consumers.

“The mission of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation is to protect the citizens of Maine through the regulation of state-chartered financial institutions, the insurance industry, grantors of consumer credit, the securities industry, and numerous professions and occupations providing services to the public,” that Web site says.

“The department protects consumers through its licensing, examining, and auditing activities; by conducting programs aimed at increasing voluntary compliance with state laws; by investigating possible violations of law; and by undertaking enforcement actions. The department responds to consumer complaints and requests for information and conducts educational and outreach programs to make consumers aware of their rights under Maine laws.

“In order to encourage the development of sound ethical businesses which serve the needs of Maine citizens, the department fosters a healthy business environment through competent, impartial and efficient regulation.”

A knowledgeable Baldacci administration official said the governor’s plan envisions continued regulatory independence within a new department.

Also being proposed, according to an administration source familiar with budget details, is the absorption of the Atlantic Salmon Commission within the Department of Marine Resources.