He’s no Bernie bro but a Maine GOP lawmaker wants to ax ‘corporate welfare’

Good morning from Augusta, where a Republican lawmaker laid out a plan to bulldoze many of Maine’s convoluted set of business tax exemptions.

In doing so, he showed that while it could be feasible in the current anti-government, anti-tax environment, it’s also fraught with political peril. That tightrope is why these tax breaks have survived amid challenges around their efficacy in recent years.

The plan from Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, is just a concept at this stage, but he told the Legislature’s Taxation Committee that it targets 47 tax programs that he termed “corporate welfare,” costing the state between $425 million and $448 million over two years. He would use the savings to eliminate Maine’s corporate income tax and lower income taxes.

Under the proposal, the two biggest targets are $135 million in just two programs affecting more than 6,000 businesses— the Business Equipment Tax Exemption and the older Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement — that help businesses recoup property taxes paid on equipment purchases.

Also among the targets are tax breaks that seem relatively inconsequential in the bigger pictures, including a sales tax refund on windjammer parts that affects 10 taxpayers.

Brakey’s plan looks to thread a political needle: He said it’s designed to bridge a gap between Republicans who “hate taxes” and Democrats who “hate corporate welfare.”

That’s a decent political argument and there’s a policy case for it, too: Maine has long wrestled with not being able to evaluate the effectiveness of its hodgepodge of tax breaks and the Legislature’s watchdog committee is evaluating that now.

Democrats and Republicans praised the idea, but behind each tax break is a constituency, and Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, told Brakey that if the proposal was more fleshed out, there would be a line “out and around the Capitol 10 times” with businesses testifying against it.

The main challenge is that Maine’s business community is likely to oppose these changes: Maine State Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Linda Caprara told the committee “there’s a reason” that the breaks exist, and the state’s package of incentives isn’t generous compared to other places.

All of this makes Brakey’s proposal a fascinating one, but more details are needed before we can see if it’s viable.— Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree will take an Iraqi immigrant separated from her family by Trump’s executive order to the president’s congressional address on Tuesday. Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, offered her guest spot to 20-year-old Banah Al-Hanfy, the daughter of an interpreter who worked for the U.S. government. She was initially unable to board a flight amid confusion over Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, but was reunited with her family in Portland on Feb. 3, according to the Portland Press Herald. POLITICO reported that Pingree is among several Democrats taking immigrants to the president’s joint address to Congress, set for 9 p.m. tonight. — Michael Shepherd
  • House Republican keeps the letter chain about Rep. Ryan Tipping going. Last week, Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, asked House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, to open a House Ethics Committee investigation into whether Tipping has a conflict of interest between his legislative role and past work for the Stand Up for Students referendum campaign. Gideon denied Sirocki’s request on Friday. On Monday, Sirocki wrote another letter to Gideon on Monday that questions whether Tipping should follow rules for lobbyists. — Christopher Cousins
  • Higher education officials’ day at the State House. Members of the House and Senate will gather together at 11 a.m. Thursday for speeches by some of Maine’s top education officials, including Maine Maritime Academy President William Brennan, University of Maine system Chancellor James Page and Maine Community College system President Derek Langhauser. You can stream the speeches by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins
  • The chief justice of Maine’s high court has set the schedule for proceedings around ranked-choice voting’s constitutionality. It comes after the Maine Senate asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for a judgment on the law approved by voters in 2016 even though Attorney General Janet Mills questioned its constitutionality. Now, the court will consider two elements: Whether the request is a “solemn occasion” allowing for review and the law around questions submitted by the Senate. Initial briefs in the case are on due on Friday ahead of the April 13 oral argument at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

The Legislature will be busy today referencing a pile of bills to committees. That’s the norm at this point in the long session.

Lawmakers also are expected to debate and vote on a more than $29 million supplemental budget bill that includes additional current-year funding for higher education, addiction treatment and the Maine Military Authority, among other things. In addition to that spending, the supplemental budget funnels $35 million to Maine’s rainy day account.

In committees, there is a long list of bills up for public hearings and work sessions. Here are some highlights:

  • The Appropriations Committee will continue hearing testimony on Gov. LePage’s biennial budget bill.
  • The Transportation Committee will potentially vote on recommendations for two bills aimed at overhauling Maine’s motor vehicle inspection laws.
  • The Insurance and Financial Services Committee will consider LD 237, An Act to Establish a State Bank.
  • The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee will hear testimony on a range of bills regarding conditions in the workplace.
  • The Judiciary Committee will consider a recommendation on two bills that have to do with recreational access to private lands.

Check out the full list of committee activity by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Learning about the presidents from a 6-year-old

Someone owed me $2 and he gave it to me last night after Cub Scouts. My little Cub Scout was there and said “can I have it?”

He’s kind of cute and the loss of $2 won’t break me. Maybe. So I gave it to him and made him promise to keep it somewhere safe. When we arrived at home I asked him where he put the money.

“It’s under my hat, just like that famous person,” he said. “Wait, who was the 16th president?”

There was a momentary moment of doubt. I’m not the best with numbers but I got it right.

“Abraham Lincoln?”


I didn’t know Honest Abe kept cash under his hat and have been unable to confirm it this morning. However, I trust my son and so should you.

He chose today’s bonus soundtrack and I charged him only $2. — Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.