LePage’s ‘Open for Business Zones’ proposal officially dead after partisan House vote

House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport
House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport Buy Photo
Posted April 14, 2014, at 1:43 p.m.
Last modified April 14, 2014, at 4:35 p.m.
Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast
Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast
Rep. Stanley Short, D-Pittsfield
Contributed photo
Rep. Stanley Short, D-Pittsfield

AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats successfully completed their turn-back of Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to create “Open for Business Zones” at two former military bases in Maine with a mostly party-line vote Monday in the House of Representatives.

The 91-55 vote Monday morning came after a 22-13 vote Friday in the Senate. LD 1835 is essentially dead. Rep. James Campbell Sr., I-Newfield, zeroed in on the fact that the bill would not permit labor unions to charge dues in the new zones.

“This is nothing but a union-busting bill and nothing more,” said Campbell. “Why, oh why, do they want so badly to do away with the unions and the middle-class workers?”

The bill, unveiled by LePage during his State of the State address in February, is aimed at companies that would invest at least $50 million and create 1,500 jobs at either the former Brunswick Naval Air Station or the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. According to recent data from the Maine Department of Labor, there are only 13 businesses in Maine that meet or exceed those thresholds, and all of them have been in Maine for decades.

Democrats continued their arguments that the bill would give too much in the way of tax breaks and other incentives to businesses.

Rep. Stanley Short Jr., D-Pittsfield, said unions aren’t the factor that are keeping businesses out of Maine or driving them overseas after they’re already here. In Short’s hometown, the UTC Fire and Security plan, a factory which produces commercial detectors, fire panels and signaling equipment, announced last month that it will close its Pittsfield plant and take the 300 jobs there elsewhere.

“UTC decided to leave Maine not because their client was unionized, it wasn’t,” said Short. “They are moving their operation to Mexico and China. I strongly believe that this bill should be defeated on behalf of hard-working men and women in Maine.”

The bill would have given companies in the Open for Business Zones 20-year breaks on corporate income taxes, 20-year exemptions from the sales tax, five years of lower electricity rates, a tax increment financing deal for individual income taxes during which the companies could use the money for investing in their own operations, access to a $500 million pool of bond funding, training and recruitment help from the Department of Economic and Community Development and access to the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program.

“We can’t afford LD 1835, and we know it will not produce results,” said Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast. “This bill takes the most poorly performing tool in our economic toolbox, Pine Tree Development Zones, and puts it on steroids. … My concern is who are we taking benefits away from to do this? This takes benefits from businesses across the state and gives it to one big employer in one part of the state.”

Republicans said Democrats were foolhardy in their opposition to the bill.

“This vote was about stubbornly defending the status quo of Maine’s economy versus trying something new and implementing bold reforms that would bring thousands of new jobs to our state,” said House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport.

The only House members to break from their parties on this bill were Rep. Andrew Mason, D-Topsham, and Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta.

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