Op-ed: Common Sense: Not Dead Yet

Photo courtesy General Dynamics.

This is a Maine Examiner contributor opinion piece.

Examples of mindlessness these days are so numerous that a contest for the most absurd media headline would necessarily be limited to a specific date. Among conservatives, there is no doubt that there is also a pervasive liberal bias in major media outlets and a study by Tim Groseclose of UCLA and Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri says there is liberal bias in even the supposedly conservative Wall Street Journal news pages and the Drudge Report.

Ken Frederic is a native of Ellsworth and graduate of UMO.

A long-lost Facebook post first raised my interest in LD1781, “An Act to Encourage New Major Investments in Shipbuilding Facilities and the Preservation of Jobs”. It caught my attention because it suggested (or maybe actually said) a Legislator had repeated that mindless and shopworn “Corporate Welfare” talking point. A search of Maine media coverage of LD 1781, showed headlines in the Bangor Daily News, Lewiston Sun Journal, and Ellsworth American, all repeated that “Corporate Welfare” talking point. [In fairness to those papers, following the links shows the headlines apply to guest columns and letters, not editorials. The Portland Press Herald links were plainly labeled as letters.]

Those letters were remarkably similar if not quite identical. Even the protest signs and opposition testimony followed the same template, sometimes rearranging the order of the points. Those were:

  1. Tax breaks are ‘corporate welfare’.
  2. BIW is owned by General Dynamics and does not need assistance.
  3. The value of the package was cited at $60M, that is the 20-year value of a $3M/year tax reduction.
  4. The General Dynamics CEO received $21M in compensation “last year”, which was sometime between 2013 and 2017, depending on the specific letter.
  5. General Dynamics bought back $14.4B of its own stock (or $13.7B, or $12B)
  6. General Dynamics is the 5th largest DOD Contractor and has $ 31B in revenue, 4 times that of Maine. Another writer claimed $60B.)
  7. Maine could not ‘afford’ to ‘give’ General Dynamics money which was needed for education, health care, and other priorities.
  8. BIW should be building Solar Panels, Windmills, and High-Speed Trains, not warships.
  9. Maine needs the money for healthcare, education, combatting climate change, and feeding our starving children.

Some ‘testimony’ was creative, claiming BIW was responsible for climate change, that the sonar used by its ships were killing Maine children, and that stock buybacks were responsible for the economic stagnation over the last 8 years. One writer urged that Maine or Bath City seize BIW and sell it to a private entity. Another recommended taxing the machinery as well as the real estate at BIW. Yet another asserted that defense spending returned less than half as many dollars to the local economy as spending on education and health.

That LD 1781 passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities is evidence that our legislature was unpersuaded by the templated opposition to the bill. Readers will make individual assessments of whether the opposition arguments were as mindless as they were repetitive. What is not a matter of opinion that Maine is one of the highest tax and least business friendly states in America. General Dynamics is a sophisticated contractor, not married to building ships in Bath and the corporation will not subsidize BIW from their other businesses. If taxation in Maine drives the BIW overhead high enough that the facility cannot compete with yards in other states, General Dynamics will move existing work and stop spending the money to write losing proposals for Bath. Four or five thousand jobs will be lost. There will be no future for BIW unless another buyer is enticed with much larger tax incentives.

Our Legislature made a rational decision and rejected the nonsense opposition to LD 1781. We all owe thanks to legislators for supporting this bill and putting the health of Maine’s economy ahead of pandering to a noisy, mindless rabble whose motives are beyond my understanding and, I would propose, beyond their own.

Ken Frederic is a native of Ellsworth and graduate of UMO. He and his wife, Betty Ann, retired to Maine in 2012 after 43 years as a Department of Defense consultant. They now live in Bristol and are active in the community, St. Patrick’s Church, and Republican politics.

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