BIG TURNOUT AT FORUM IN BATH
We counted right at 90 people last night at the forum our local committee organized here in Bath. The event, sponsored by Bath Citizens for Responsible TIF Action, was held in the city hall auditorium and featured three speakers. We had to use the balcony for seating as the auditorium was packed.
The speakers included a retired college law professor who has studied corporate tax breaks for 30 years, an economist from a leading Maine organization, and a city councilman from nearby town of Brunswick. In the end they all agreed on the need for greater transparency and disclosure by Bath Iron Works (BIW) and their parent General Dynamics Corporation. Since BIW's primary justification for the $6 million tax break (after already getting $197 million of public subsidies since 1997 from the state and city of Bath) is that they need the money to stay competitive, it would indeed seem appropriate for the company to open their accounting books at least to the city. One of the speakers commented that any local taxpayer who applies for any public subsidy from the state must fully disclose all of their financial information. As my mother used to say, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Two state representatives showed up as did most members of the Bath city council. Since this was a citizens forum they just sat and listened. Radio, TV and several newspapers covered the event. One local TV station coverage can be seen here
BIW and General Dynamics are not hurting. The new Zumwalt "stealth" destroyers are costing about $4 billion each. Contracts have been signed for BIW to build three of them. Previous destroyers were costing $1.5 billion per copy.
One BIW union member told one of our committee members after the event that the company does not need the $250,000 tax break for the next 25 years. It's chump change to the corporation and would likely be used for top executive bonuses anyway. He said that most BIW workers understand this.
Another BIW worker told us that their union has tried, without success, to get BIW to publicly disclose their financial information at the time of union contract negotiations. The company of course resists this request and instead continues to squeeze the workers pay and health care and has reduced their work force by 2,000 since they began getting the tax giveaways in the late 90's.
The meeting began last night with a history of TIFS (Tax Increment Financing). They came into existence to help communities fund job creation efforts in poor and blighted areas. Over the years the big corporations have jumped into the TIF game.
In BIW's latest request they don't even promise to create a single job if given the corporate welfare. That is not going over well with the public.
The city council is scheduled to make the final decision next Wednesday, November 20. But if councilors really listened to the speakers last night they heard strong recommendations for more information, more transparency by BIW and General Dynamics. It would seem to me that this issue rates as controversial enough that the city should put it to public referendum. After all, the public has to pay the freight, they should be given the chance to say Yea or Nay.