The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and several economic development groups are opposing Question 1 on the November ballot, which would expand Maine’s public campaign financing system by eliminating $6 million in corporate tax breaks.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber, said Wednesday that the organizations do not have an issue with the ballot initiative’s overall goals or Maine’s public campaign financing system. But they oppose the proposal to partially fund an increase in public financing of elections by eliminating $6 million in state business tax incentives from the two-year state budget.

The legislative language accompanying Question 1 – but not included in the actual question most voters will read – directs the Legislature’s Taxation Committee to report out a bill “to permanently eliminate corporate tax expenditures totaling $6,000,000 per biennium, prioritizing for elimination low-performing, unaccountable tax expenditures with little or no demonstrated economic development benefit.”

Connors said the state needs to invest in economic development programs, not cut them.

“We live in a very competitive economy and we compete with other states,” Connors said. “Our programs are, by comparison, quite meager and modest but quite effective.”

Connors said a coalition of 15 business or economic development groups will formally announce their opposition Thursday at a press conference in Portland. The Maine State Chamber is the largest and best-known organization to come out against Question 1. Other members of the coalition identified Wednesday include the Maine Department of Community and Economic Development, the Manufacturers Association of Maine, Maine & Company and the Maine Forest Products Council.

The ballot initiative, which is being spearheaded by the organization Mainers for Accountable Elections, seeks to increase the amount of money available to candidates who choose to participate in Maine’s Clean Elections program. That program, which was endorsed by voters during a 1996 referendum, provides public campaign dollars to candidates who agree to forgo receiving private donations after being certified as Clean Election candidates. Supporters say the program allows candidates to focus on issues rather than fundraising, and reduces the influence of money on elections.

Question 1 would increase the total pool of money available to the Clean Elections program and increase the potential disperse disbursements to candidates while allowing them to collect additional $5 donations. It would also require organizations behind political advertisements to disclose the top three donors to the ads and would increase penalties for candidates who violate Maine’s campaign finance laws.

“It’s unfortunate to see the Maine State Chamber of Commerce make this decision,” Andrew Bossie, president of Mainers for Accountable Elections, said in a statement. “Question 1 will strengthen our democracy, increase transparency and elevate the voice of everyday Mainers in our elections, which is why it’s earned the endorsement of the Maine Small Business Coalition, U.S. Senator Angus King and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell.”

The initiative also spells out that the tax expenditures to be eliminated offer “little or no demonstrated economic development benefit,” as determined by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the state’s watchdog agency.

There has been a robust debate in Maine about the effectiveness of Maine’s economic development programs and the adequacy of the accountability standards built into the programs.

In 2013, a state task force essentially gave up on an effort to trim $40 million from tax programs because members determined there wasn’t enough information available to make educated recommendations. The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, or OPEGA, has since developed a review system that would evaluate programs on a rolling basis. But during the summer, the head of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development told the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee that his department lacks the time and staff to measure effectiveness of incentive programs.

Connors said he agrees that there must be strong accountability measures built into economic development incentive programs. But rather than taking money from economic development tools in order to pay for political campaigns, the state should move money from ineffective programs to those that have been shown to be effective.

Question 1, Connors said, “permanently removes $6 million from programs that are clearly intended to grow our economy and create jobs and, instead, would be used for elections.”

The only other vocal opposition to Question 1 has come from a group of conservative lawmakers and others, organized under the group Mainers Against Welfare for Politicians.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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