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Trying to save a big-business handout

Maine lawmakers, having cut $140 million from the state's education, health, human services, and the criminal-justice system budgets, have asked the business community to contribute $10 million to the $200 million in cuts being sought to balance the state budget, according to state Senator Lynn Bromley (D-South Portland), who is the senate chairman of the Legislature's Business, Research, and Economic Development Committee.

Today, in response to a claim by Maine State Chamber of Commerce president Dana Connors that it the state's businesses shouldn't offer their ideas of where to cut spending, Bromley essentially called Connors's bluff, and invited his organization and other businesses to do just that.

The carrot she laid out, she told the Phoenix, was that if they can cut $10 million, then they could preserve the state's Business-Equipment Tax Reimbursement program (called BETR, the program was extended indefinitely in 2006, just before it was slated to expire, in what a recent Portland Phoenix story by Lance Tapley called the "Payments Forever" tax break). If they don't come up with $10 million, then the state's $66-million BETR fund could be cut, she says, not noticing the other millions we already give to massively profitable out-of-state companies (see "Tax Break Heaven," by Lance Tapley, February 22).

Of course, even if the businesses do agree to pitch in $10 million to fill that 5 percent of the state's budget hole, they'll still be receiving $670 million in tax breaks in fiscal 2009, as we reported last month (see "Tax Break Heaven" again). And the state's general practice of balancing the budget on the backs of poor, elderly, and sick Mainers - and continuing to give lavishly to out-of-state corporations (Wal-Mart, here's $439,000) - will continue.

Lawmakers are even still talking about creating a new tax break for businesses, which would be a blank check for the wealthiest Mainers and developers to refit old buildings with taxpayers' money - with almost no limits. We reported on that, too (see "A 'Good' Tax Break In the Making," by Lance Tapley, February 22). Bromley says she doesn't think new tax breaks should be considered given the budget situation.

But she's quite happy to keep the old ones, and keep the $140 million in cuts to education, health, human services, and the justice system.

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