Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Another stake through the heart of justice - Senate votes yes on GD corporate welfare bill

Sen. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) called the GD bill "a bit like highway robbery."

Long time Maine environmentalist Sen. Brownie Carson (D-Harpswell) did a back flip after saying Maine couldn't afford the bill but then stated he'd vote for it anyway.

This morning I was the first of the 'citizen lobbyists' to arrive outside the doors of the Maine Senate.  Soon enough 14 'admin and management' employees from BIW arrived - one of them admitted that they were all being paid to be there.

Thirteen more of our folks arrived as well so it was even representation by both sides of the issue - that is if you don't count all the paid lobbyists that BIW/GD hired. I counted at least 4-5 of them.  Their job was to make sure things went right - and they did as the Senate voted 25-9 in favor of the GD corporate welfare bill.  You can see how they all voted (one Republican voted No and eight Democrats voted Yes) here

One of our folks noticed BIW V-P John Fitzgerald having harsh words with Sen. Brownie Carson (D-Harpswell) outside of the Senate chambers before things got started.  The argument seemed to have worked on Carson who won the award for the best argument against the bill but then did a backwards flip and voted for it anyway - so he additionally won the spineless prize....more on him in a bit.

My state Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Arrowsic) was the first to speak in favor of the bill that she co-sponsored by saying it was a "jobs bill" and the money would be used for "training workers".  She admitted that BIW was "not likely to close over night without this tax credit" but like many others fell for the notion that the taxpayers of Maine must help fund the military industrial complex.

Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Auburn) maintained that the give-a-way to General Dynamics was "not corporate welfare". (Other Republicans spoke in favor of the bill but I won't bore you with their tired theories about how giving tax breaks to big business creates more jobs.)

Sen. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) told his fellow senators that while serving on the Taxation Committee, that had responsibility for LD 1781, he asked BIW V-P Fitzgerald five times for financial information that would prove the company needed the support.  Fitzgerald repeatedly refused to do so.  Chenette asked, "How can we make informed decisions without the facts?  This feels a little bit like highway robbery."

Sen. Ben Chipman (D-Portland) argued against the bill and concluded that, "We could use this money to help alleviate poverty in Maine."

Then Sen. Carson did his amazing high-wire act - the first-half of which drew raves from our side.  He claimed the bill "Was not the highest and best use of our funds.  Hundreds of millions of dollars in requests are now sitting on the Appropriations Committee table for the many needs in Maine."  But then after an astounding double-reverse back flip (with a twist) Carson concluded with, "Despite serious reservations I will support LD 1781."

Imagine the head shaking that followed from us sitting in the public balcony.  

Fortunately there was a quick recovery as Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Bangor) spoke in opposition and outlined the key point that "Tax incentives do not promote economic growth.  Once you put a tax incentive in place it is virtually impossible to get rid of it."

Sen. Mike Carpenter (D-Houlton) surprised us with his strong anti-bill words when he said, "There is no suggestion this company needs our help. This company is exploding with money."

Sadly a big Bernie Sanders supporter, and Senate Democratic leader, Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) spoke twice in support of the bill maintaining it was about preserving good jobs in Maine.  As it turned out Jackson's adult son Chace was on the PretiFlaherty lobby team working in favor of the GD corporate welfare bill.

Actually I didn't expect we'd get more than five votes from the Maine Senate so nine was a pleasant surprise. 

This is the first time since moving to Maine I've gone through this kind of legislative process on any bill from start to finish.  I've attended some public hearings on bills in the past but this was a first to track a bill the entire way.  My work in the peace movement doesn't offer many opportunities to do this kind of thing at the state level.

What is so amazing to me though is to see weapons corporations establish as 'normal' the concept of going to states and cities (like Bath) for additional funding on top of what they get from the federal treasury to build weapons.  This is a very dangerous idea and is totally destabilizing to social progress.  We needed to push back hard against this and we did.

Throughout this campaign we've repeatedly heard about how the state of Mississippi annually gives BIW's competitor shipyard called Huntington Ingalls millions of dollars in subsidies as justification for Maine doing the same for BIW/GD.  But one legislator in the House remarked yesterday that we should be careful as Maine might very well become more like Mississippi than we bargained for as that poor southern state is at the bottom, or near bottom, in most social indicators.

It was in the original Taxation Committee work sessions on LD 1781 that Rep. Ryan Tipping (D-Orono) called the GD corporate welfare bill "a race to the bottom."  Like we saw Sen. Carson do today, speak against the bill and then vote for it, Rep. Tipping basically did the same.

LD 1781 was never meant to see the light of day.  This bad bill was supposed to sail through Augusta without a public whimper but the intervention of many Mainers of conscience changed that plan.  BIW/GD had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to hire PretiFlaherty to usher the bill through the legislature.

In the end public outcry forced the legislature to cut the original bill by 25% to $45 million - still far too much.  We showed that a determined group of citizens in Maine can stand up to the likes of GD and come away with $15 million in savings for the hard-pressed people of our state.

It was an honor to work alongside all of you who stood up for the 43,000 children living in poverty across Maine, for the tens of thousands without health care, for our starving public education system, and for the crumbling physical infrastructure as Maine joins Mississippi in the "race to the bottom".

I look forward to standing with you all again soon.


Photos by Regis Tremblay and Peter Woodruff (retired BIW worker)


Blogger Chris Busby said...

Deep gratitude to Bruce and crew for all their inspiring activism on behalf of Maine's people.

3/29/18, 9:23 AM  

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