AUGUSTA, Maine — The bill to save an economic development program that helps startup companies raise capital will become law, but it will do so without Gov. Paul LePage’s signature.
LePage will not sign LD 743, which provides funding for the Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit program, instead opting to let it become law without his signature, John Butera, the governor’s senior economic policy adviser, told the Bangor Daily News on Monday.
LePage is declining to sign the bill not because he doesn’t support the program, Butera said, but because he believes the bill could have been “more impactful.”
“When he puts his name on something, there’s ownership and shows he bought into it,” Butera said. “He buys into the concept, but he feels the numbers and the bill wasn’t impactful enough.”
The Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit program allows people who invest no more than $500,000 in a Maine business with less than $3 million in gross sales to receive tax credits equal to 60 percent of the investment. It also provides tax credits to venture capital firms.
The idea behind the program, created in 1989, is to reduce the risk for individuals and venture capital firms that invest in early-stage companies in the state.
The program is estimated to have created more than 1,800 jobs in Maine since 2003 and helped retain another 5,000, according to testimony submitted in support of the bill from Elizabeth Bordowitz, CEO of the Finance Authority of Maine, which administers the program.
However, the program reached its statutory, lifetime cap of $30 million in tax credits in January 2013.
LD 743, which the Maine House and Senate approved in late June, expands the program by providing more funds for tax credits ($675,000 in 2014, $4 million in 2015 and $5 million in 2016 and years after), and scraps the lifetime cap in favor of the annual $5 million cap.
Sen. Linda Valentino of Saco, the bill’s sponsor, was unaware of LePage’s decision not to sign the bill until she was contacted by a BDN reporter.
“Although I’m pleased the bill was not vetoed, I’m baffled as to why it was not signed,” she said. “This bill has had unanimous, bipartisan support in the committee, the House and in the Senate, plus it was a priority of funding in the Appropriations Committee. Every step of the way it has received unanimous, bipartisan support.”
Rep. Gary Knight, a Republican from Livermore Falls and a co-sponsor of the bill, was also unaware of the governor’s decision until Monday afternoon.
Knight called the bill “a strong supporter of job creation in the state,” and said he doesn’t understand the governor’s decision.
“I don’t comprehend his rationale. Maybe this doesn’t produce thousands of jobs, but it does promote investment in the state and job growth, both of which he and I support,” Knight said. “I know he’s a man of brazen, bold, big steps, which I support, but sometimes we have to be satisfied with the little steps. This is an important little step and I’m disappointed that he wouldn’t sign it.”
Knight said he asked the governor to include funding for the seed capital tax credit program in his original budget, therefore saving the bill from a possible death on the appropriations table, but the governor declined to do so.
‘We did have that discussion,” Knight said. “That didn’t happen obviously. It didn’t meet his criteria to do that.”
Knight wouldn’t guess as to the governor’s motives, but said partisan politics could be playing a role, given the amount of “pettiness and partisanship” he observed this past session.
“Was this a retaliation against Sen. Valentino? Possibly,” Knight said. “It’s sad for citizens of the state to see that sort of thing happen, but it does happen. There’s been so much of that in Augusta that tit-for-tat is possible. It’s going on on both sides of the aisle. It’s deplorable, in my opinion.”
Butera said the governor’s decision not to sign the bill wasn’t a political move.
“It’s not politics. He just didn’t think it was impactful enough,” he said. “The end result will be the same.”
As Butera asserts, LePage’s decision to allow the bill to become law without his signature will not have a significant effect on the program or its ability to support Maine’s startup community.
If he signed the bill, which was not passed as an emergency measure, it would have become law 90 days after the Legislature adjourned on July 10. By not signing the bill, it will now become law three days after the Legislature reconvenes, which it is scheduled to do in early January 2014.
In any case, the bill doesn’t provide tax credits until 2014, when the bill will become law anyway.
“It’s still going to have the same impact. It’s still going into law,” Butera said. “I don’t think not signing [the bill] is going to impact projects or our ability to finance projects.”
The Finance Authority of Maine, which administers the program, will begin rulemaking prior to January so that the program rules may be effective at the earliest possible date, according to William Norbert, FAME’s governmental affairs and communications manager.
Tim Agnew, a principal at Masthead Venture Partners in Portland and supporter of the bill, said whether politics played a role in the governor’s decision not to sign the bill shouldn’t matter.
“From our perspective, it’s a non-issue,” Agnew said Monday. “In a way I like the governor’s response because it makes me think maybe he’ll put more money behind it in a supplemental budget in January. I haven’t heard that he will but I’ll certainly make that case.”
Butera wouldn’t make any promises, but added: “We’re willing to look at expanding it, and look at it in the context of all budgetary and financial issues that face us.”