TIF OF THE ICEBERG - ROUND 2
|Bath Iron Works in Maine is owned by General Dynamics Corporation|
Last night I attended the city council meeting in Bath, Maine where they held their second "workshop" about another TIF (Tax Increment Financing) request by Bath Iron Works (BIW).
Because the workshop would not allow public comments four people who oppose the tax break for the $33 billion weapons corporation spoke during the public comment period at the start of the meeting. One local resident told the story of one top General Dynamics executive who recently got a $60 million compensation package for just one year. The same Bath resident talked about how his street is unexpectedly being torn up because the sewer system in the city is falling apart. The city, which has a municipal budget of less than $15 million per year, can't afford to tackle the whole sewer system at once so is just putting our fires as they happen.
The workshop did not begin until all other city business was finished which meant it did not get underway until 10:00 pm. By that time everyone who had arrived for the 6:00 pm meeting was long gone. I was the only person from the public left when the workshop started.
The corporate lawyer for BIW, Jon Fitzgerald, began the workshop with a head-spinning fast paced ramble through a dense PowerPoint presentation. I tried to take notes but could not keep up. I asked for a paper copy of the BIW presentation but was told there were none - even for the city councilors. Even though the public is not allowed to speak during council "workshops" I insisted that an open public process should allow for real information. The city manager then wavered and asked BIW to make copies available to the public at the city clerk's office.
One thing I did pick up on in Fitzgerald's presentation was that from the Navy on down they are talking about squeezing everyone. They (BIW) are squeezing the workers by announcing there will be no pay raises for about 18 months. They are laying off more workers. While collecting signatures at the polls last week (during a special state senate election) one BIW worker who signed the petition opposing the corporate tax break said she was doing the work of "three people now". They are squeezing the city and taxpayers here in Bath. Who is not being squeezed? The General Dynamics executives and shareholders. Corporate profits trump everything else.
Fitzgerald went on alot about all the tax breaks that the Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi is getting. One example he had in his PowerPoint jumped out at me. It was a couple hundred thousand dollars in Hurricane Katrina relief Community Development Block Grant that Mississippi handed over to Ingalls. So money from the federal government directly to help poor communities rebuild after the hurricane was diverted for corporate welfare.
My feeling is that as the federal budget crisis grows, and some cuts happen to the Pentagon budget, the weapons corporations new strategy is to squeeze harder local and state governments (who are already strapped and are in fiscal crisis) in order to keep their profits at the highest level possible. They have no real concern for local conditions. And the whole Ingalls-BIW "competition" feels like two professional wrestlers snarling at each other with the microphone inside the ring before the match begins where they crank the audience up. It's all a great show but usually scripted.
In Mississippi the city of Pascagoula recently granted Ingals a big tax break. Here is a quote from an Ingals shipyard representative: "In this day of shrinking budgets, we need every bit of help we can to keep our shipyard competitive and bring it back to being known as America's shipyard," he said. Almost the exact same words were heard last night from BIW at city hall here in Bath.
I was forced to leave the city council meeting at 10:45 pm because they went into "executive session". The city manager seemed eager to get them to show their commitment to BIW. The whole thing felt forced and hurried. City Councilor Carolyn Lockwood (one of the few to ask a question) said she did not really understand TIF's and felt these late night meetings were not conducive to real public participation. I sent her an email this morning thanking her for speaking up honestly in the meeting and she responded. In her email she said, "Thanks Bruce and thanks for staying until that late hour. As you know, I wanted to move the workshop to a time that would be more productive for everyone. I lost that vote. This is a really important issue that many people know little about, or they think they know about it. I was hoping that last night's workshop would be a TIF 101 lesson, especially with our TIF attorney present. I do know some things about TIFs but this discussion was moving at such a pace that unless you worked with TIFs on a daily basis, there was no way you could keep up. The hard part about TIFs is that each one is different and what you think you know about one can be totally different for the next."
It's quite sad that our city government appears to fear having an accessible public process where BIW must provide us all with real pertinent information about their request for tax "relief". As it turns out they are requesting, on top of $197 million in past tax breaks, another $250,000 each year for the next 25 years. That kind of money would go a long way in our city for fixing our sewer system, our roads, and funding our schools.
It was not at all clear to me what the next steps in the process will be. I don't even think the city council knew as of last night at 10:45pm. I've not heard, and maybe never will, because what happened in the "executive session" is not required to be public. My guess is that BIW used the time to scare the city council with threats of moving the shipyard if they don't get their way.