AUGUSTA — If I had to grade the report by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections on the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement and Business Equipment Tax Exemption programs, I would have to give it an F for failure.

As I read the report that Maine Citizens for Clean Elections compiled on BETR and BETE, I not only realized how biased it was, but also was astounded by its startling accusations about Maine’s Legislature; its attacks on union officials for their support of the programs, and its sheer lack of understanding of the purpose of either program.

First, the report claims that both the state Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections “suggest that the BETR program lacks accountability and purpose.”

BETR and BETE allow Maine to compete for new investment with other states that do not impose taxes on business equipment and are vital to enabling businesses to be able to make important investments in capital equipment. Without attracting new investment, many important businesses would eventually die on the vine.

The legislative intent behind the BETR program is clearly outlined in Maine statutes. It appears the authors never bothered to pick up the Maine statutes to read them.

With respect to BETR, “The Legislature finds that encouragement of the growth of capital investment in this State is in the public interest and promotes the general welfare of the people of the State. The Legislature further finds that the high cost of owning qualified business property in this State is a disincentive to the growth of capital investment in this State. The Legislature further finds that the tax exemption set forth in this subchapter is a reasonable means of overcoming this disincentive and will encourage capital investment in this State.”

Nearly identical findings were made by the Legislature with respect to the BETE program. Also, Maine businesses are accountable, because they can receive the benefits of either program only after they have invested in capital equipment. You don’t receive a dime if you don’t invest.

Second are the appalling insinuations made by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections that both parties of Maine’s Legislature are somehow bought and paid for by businesses that support various referendum campaigns that have absolutely nothing to do with either BETR or BETE, or any other program for that matter.

Maine’s businesses have every right to give in support of candidates, political action committees or referendum campaigns. The business community has supported many worthwhile causes over the years, including referendums on gay rights, forestry and tax reform. These issues have nothing to do with the business equipment tax programs.

It certainly is a stretch for the authors of the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections report to link legislators’ votes on BETR and BETE to these issue campaigns. Other than unfounded accusations, there is no link.

Furthermore, we live in a democracy, and people are free to support whatever cause they wish. As soon as you limit who can give to what, you limit free speech. That is a fact.

Third, the report criticizes the United Steelworkers’ support of the BETR and BETE programs.

The unions know firsthand the importance of capital investment to their employers because they work in those facilities, make the products and must compete every day, not just locally but also globally.

They know that if the facilities become uncompetitive and are not able to sell products at a competitive price on the global market, the facilities – and jobs – will die. I applaud their efforts in support of BETR.

Capital investment helps retain existing jobs and create new ones and allows a business to compete in the ever-competitive global marketplace. If businesses don’t continue to invest, they eventually don’t exist.

Companies that receive BETR and BETE infuse millions of dollars into the Maine economy in terms of jobs, indirect and direct, dollars they spend locally, and dollars they spend statewide on goods and services from other companies. I applaud the efforts and actions by Maine’s Legislature for enacting BETR and BETE and for their continued support in funding these vital programs for Maine’s economy.

This report doesn’t carry one ounce of credibility. Again, I believe it’s an insult to Maine’s Legislature, Maine’s business community, which invests in equipment to keep its facilities alive, and to the hardworking men and women who work hard to produce world-class products right here in Maine.

– Special to the Press Herald