Shipyard, wireless carriers among top lobbyist spenders
By MARINA VILLENEUVE
Feb. 24, 2018
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A shipyard fighting for tax breaks and a California billionaire pushing to pass a victim rights amendment in Maine are among the top spenders on lobbyists so far this year, according to ethics commission reports.
Maine lobbyists this month reported more than $330,000 in pay since December from clients ranging from Verizon to renewable energy companies.
Maine's legislative committees are finishing up much of their work but key decisions remain on issues such as Medicaid expansion, marijuana legalization, ranked-choice voting and tax conformity. Lawmakers are set to leave Augusta in mid-April.
Lawmakers reported $5.2 million in compensation last year and $2.5 million in 2016.
Bath Iron Works has reported spending about $16,000 so far to preserve a tax credit program worth tens of millions and set to end this year. The General Dynamics-owned company's general counsel, Jon Fitzgerald, told lawmakers it's delivered on its promises and invested more than $500 million in its facility since 1996.
Fitzgerald said Bath Iron Works, which builds Navy destroyers, is competing with larger shipyards that receive significant state support. But a number of Maine residents have called on lawmakers to reject $60 million in "corporate welfare" to General Dynamics.
Lawmakers haven't made a decision on the tax break's future yet.
Maine lawmakers haven't yet moved ahead on two bills to strengthen rights for crime victims.
One measure is part of a multi-state campaign bankrolled by California billionaire Henry Nicholas, whose sister was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. The accused was released on bail a week after her murder without her family being told.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and others have warned a proposed crime victim rights amendment would be unconstitutional and overburden Maine courts. A scaled-down bill to allow victims to be present at certain proceedings has received some criticism from the Legislature's Criminal Law Advisory Commission.
Verizon has reported spending nearly $10,000 backing a bill to expand broadband access by making it easier to install shoebox-size antennas on traffic signals, street lights and other structures.
So-called "small cell" technology can help target areas in a low-profile way, Verizon lobbyist Jim Cohen told lawmakers last month. The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and wireless carriers like AT&T have also reported lobbying on the Maine bill.
But the bill's future appears uncertain after a recent legislative panel disagreed about whether it should become law. The Maine Municipal Association and the City of Portland has argued the bill would limit local control and regulation over small cell sites.
Altria, one of the world's largest tobacco and cigarette makers, is among companies that are lobbying lawmakers who are figuring out the consequences of President Trump's tax reform bill on Maine.
State lawmakers are considering whether to make any changes in response to Trump's reform, and Republican Gov. Paul LePage says he won't support any changes that could mean a net tax increase for Mainers.
The LePage administration has said federal tax reform could save Maine businesses and residents millions on federal taxes, and that the state could avoid a potential state income tax increase for some Mainers. The governor has said his administration will soon release a tax conformity bill.