While much has changed in the world in the past months, the MEREDA Public Policy Committee has continued to stay engaged on critical matters impacting our members. From ensuring a last-minute enactment of an extension to the Maine Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit (MHRTC), to advocacy before the Governor’s office on state action related to COVID-19, the past few weeks have been active.
Before COVID-19 upended our lives, the Second Regular Session of the 129th Legislature was set to adjourn on April 15, 2020. However, as confirmed US cases began to rise in early March, the Legislature moved to adjourn on March 17, 2020. The early adjournment forced the Legislature to carry-over hundreds of bills to a future special session. Fortunately, working diligently with the Governor’s Office and Maine Revenue Services, MEREDA and the MHRTC Coalition were able to ensure passage of a two-year extension of the MHRTC. The extension also ensures that projects can continue construction and claim the credit past the sunset date, so long as they’ve been certified. The MHRTC extension was enacted in LD 2047, which became Public Law 2019, Chapter 659 on March 18, 2020. It will take effect on June 16, 2020.
Commercial Real Estate as an Essential Business
Though there has been no legislation action since adjournment, the Governor’s Office and her administration have issued a number of orders related to COVID-19 that have significantly impacted Maine businesses, including MEREDA. To represent its members’ interests in some of these crucial policy decisions, MEREDA engaged directly with the Governor’s administration on ensuring the role of commercial real estate as an essential business, the need for flexibility in notarization requirements, and limitations on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More specifically on rent and evictions, on April 14, 2020, MEREDA sent a letter to Governor Mills regarding her decision to impose limitations on eviction actions on both residential and commercial landlords. MEREDA encouraged the Governor not to take overbroad action, and emphasized that most commercial real estate landlords in Maine are small businesses who must also maintain a positive cash flow to meet financial obligations. Ultimately, the Governor placed a moratorium on evictions arising solely from failure to pay rent while continuing to allow evictions in cases of tenant misuse or misbehavior. MEREDA recently hosted a webinar on real estate issues during COVID-19, including discussion of the Governor’s order on eviction limitations. We will continue to stay engaged on this issue as it evolves and affects commercial real estate landlords, and will continue to responsibly advocate for our members as other issues arise in this rapidly changing environment.
The Maine Economy
While much has occurred in the past weeks, there is even more to be done as Maine considers reopening the economy. On April 28, 2020, Governor Mills released a four-phase plan to slowly restart the economy, with the first phase starting on May 1 and enabling some businesses to reopen. The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) will be posting checklist for businesses to follow in determining steps to secure their workplace for COVID-19 safety – check the DECD website for more news soon. The Governor’s complete plan for reopening the economy can be found here. In short, decisions about re-opening the economy in the phased plan will be based on the following four principles:
- Protecting Public Health;
- Maintaining Health Care Readiness;
- Building Reliable and Accessible Testing; and
- Prioritizing Public-Public Collaboration.
Even as businesses start to reopen under the phased plan, the state government must turn to facing the realities of the economic downfall on the state budget – which are likely to be dramatic and far-reaching. To help lawmakers understand just how much the budget is likely to be affected, Governor Mills has called upon the State’s economic forecasting officials to meet in July and August (instead of November and December), to examine the economic ramifications of the pandemic on Maine’s revenues. The Governor is likely to call legislators for a special session to address the anticipated budget shortfalls, but she may wait until after the July economic forecast to enable decision-making based on the new information about the state’s fiscal health.
MEREDA will continue to remain diligent in protecting its members’ interests as the state looks to reopen and the legislature looks for ways to address the anticipated revenue shortfall caused by this current pause in our state’s economic activity. Our members represent a critical pillar of the state economy, and we will continue to advocate for policies that are fair, practical, and predictable even as we navigate a new, post COVID-19 environment.