Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to create “Open for Business Zones” in Maine as a way to attract private investments and jobs encountered early opposition Monday when his bill, LD 1835, was presented to the Legislature.
Though there was support for the concept of creating incentives for businesses that locate at two former military bases — Brunswick Landing and the Loring Commerce Center in Aroostook County — there was passionate opposition to LePage’s desire to negate the right for labor unions in the Open for Business Zones to require workers to pay union dues.
That “Right to Work” provision in LePage’s proposal is likely a non-starter for Democrats, and perhaps some Republicans, who want to preserve labor union rights in Maine that they say protect workers from substandard wages and benefits. However, LePage has long said that the state’s laws allowing labor unions are a significant barrier to economic development.
“There’s been a lot of rhetoric and posturing about this bill from both proponents and opponents,” said John Butera, LePage’s senior economic adviser, during testimony in favor of the bill on Monday. “But at the end of the day, when you break through the clutter and eliminate all the white noise, this bill quite simply puts Maine in a better positions to provide quality job opportunities for its people.”
Butera said the LePage administration has tried to attract numerous companies to Maine and that the elements of LePage’s bill are often the first areas of concern: operating costs and a favorable business climate. Specifically, LePage proposes to offer large, new employers 20 years of corporate income tax credits; a sales tax exemption for up to 20 years; five years of reimbursements on electricity rates from the Efficiency Maine Trust; up to 20 years of employment tax breaks; favorable rates on bond funding; access to workforce training programs; and the guarantee that workers would not be required to pay labor union dues.
The goals within the bill are set high. It seeks to attract businesses that would invest at least $50 million and create 1,500 jobs or more, which would make them some of the largest employers in Maine.
Making Maine a “right to work” state has been attempted twice by the LePage administration and it failed both times. But that has not dampened the governor’s resolve.
“The reality is, I’ve sat in corporate board rooms and was told point blank by CEOs and presidents that they would not consider expanding into a state that was not right to work,” said Butera, who also predicted that bringing high-paying jobs to Maine could force other employers to boost wages in order to remain competitive in the job pool.
In addition to ideological arguments against the right to work provision, some said it’s illegal under the National Labor Relations Act unless it is enacted across the entire state.
“Maine will never beat larger states in the game of tax giveaway and who can offer the largest incentives,” said Matt Schlobohm of the Maine AFL-CIO in a written statement. “Instead of waiting forever to attract one big company, we should support the thousands of companies and workers who are here now.”