AUGUSTA — In an effort to protect Maine jobs and the economy, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce is urging Mainers to vote “no” on Question 1 on the statewide ballot, the Maine Clean Elections Initiative, when they head to the voting booth Nov. 3.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce takes no issue with Maine’s Clean Election process. But proponents of the referendum would like you to believe this is simply about tidying up the current Clean Election law by increasing campaign finance violation fines and getting “big money” out of Maine politics

What they are not telling you is that if this referendum is passed, it would have significant implications for Maine’s economy, Maine businesses and the possibility of future Maine jobs.

Hidden within the language of the measure is a paragraph that proposes to “permanently eliminate” $6 million of business tax incentives over two years to help fund the campaigns of politicians running as Clean Election candidates. Proponents of the referendum are touting that this will come from a $2 billion pot of tax expenditure money.

Don’t be fooled by this argument. Contained in that $2 billion pot of expenditures are exemptions for groceries, eye banks, prosthetic devices, hospice organizations, meals for the elderly, organizations for children with life-threatening diseases, automobiles sold to veterans and many more worthwhile causes. At the end of the day, the Legislature isn’t going to tax those items.

However, when you subtract all of those types of expenditures, you end up with about $82 million of business tax programs like the business equipment tax reimbursement program, the Pine Tree Development Zone program and the Tree Growth program, a critical incentive in rural areas of our state.

The result is that the Legislature will likely find the $6 million by cutting programs like business equipment tax reimbursement and the Pine Tree Zone, which attract investment in Maine, help retain and create jobs in this state and grow our economy.

Business equipment tax reimbursement alone is used by over 1,600 companies in Maine and was enacted by the Legislature to help put Maine businesses on a level playing field with other states that did not tax personal property, or did so at much lower rates. Over 280 companies in this state are certified under the Pine Tree Zone program, which provides benefits to companies that create jobs in certain business sectors.

These tax incentives have been absolutely critical to enabling Maine businesses to compete in the regional, national and global markets. Maine’s small businesses use these incentives all the time to help grow their businesses and grow the economy. Do we really want to risk shrinking our economy? Growing Maine’s economy should be our No. 1 focus.

Companies that receive these business tax incentives directly provide thousands of paying jobs, and indirectly provide thousands more to Maine people. These companies combined spend billions of dollars on goods and services in Maine and in their communities, contributing directly to Maine’s regional and statewide economies, ultimately providing for Maine families.

Let’s face it: Maine’s tax incentives are modest compared to those offered by other states. Other states are giving away millions, and in some cases, tens of millions of dollars, offering free money and no taxes (in the case of New York state) for up to 10 years in an effort to attract and lure business to their states. Maine cannot now hope to compete with these types of efforts, but losing $6 million more would only put Maine further behind.

The tax incentives Maine offers help our businesses compete in the global economy and have helped Maine employers expand their businesses and retain, or create, jobs. Over the years, the Legislature has carefully crafted these tax incentives to help our Maine businesses compete for opportunities for our own citizens. If we can’t compete, we lose business and jobs – period.

Here is the bottom line: This referendum sets a dangerous precedent in Maine. Any time complicated tax policy is decided at the ballot box, it risks the law of unintended consequences. The tax investment incentives this measure proposes to eliminate are absolutely critical to current and future investment in this state and retaining Maine jobs.

Again, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce takes no issue with Maine Clean Elections. However, we do have a serious problem with funding political campaigns on the backs of Maine businesses that have invested in this state, provided jobs and have fueled Maine’s economy. We urge Mainers to vote “no” on statewide Question 1 on Nov. 3.

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