May 2, 2010- I am glad to say that this letter is published in the issue coming out on May 05, 2010.
This article was also published on The Augusta Insider. When The Augusta Insider "merged" with Pine Tree Politics all articles examinining state capitalism in Maine were no longer available.
A Call For a People's Veto.
I recently submitted a letter, which was also sent to Senator Trahan, who did not respond. This letter concerned the use of taxpayer funding by the Small Enterprise Growth Fund and the proposed LD1 and LD1666. LD 1666 was rejected by the appropriations committee but subsumed into LD1 and then passed unanimously by both the House and the Senate and signed into law by Governor Baldacci.
The Maine Chamber of Commerce describes LD1 as “An Act To Stimulate Capital Investment for Innovative Businesses in Maine”. LD1 is marketed by the Small Enterprise Growth Fund with the following words “This program creates incentives for 20 Million Dollars in the Public Employee Retirement System that have already been targeted for equity investments to be placed in funds that are seeking to invest in innovative Maine businesses.”
I am not a legal expert but such expertise is not required to have general knowledge that when it comes to the law, it is the letter of the law that counts and not external promises or descriptions. When one reads LD1, one will find that in Section 6. Investment goals & guidelines, begins with the words “The purpose of the fund is to invest in a series of high-quality venture capital funds managed to produce a favorable aggregate return among diversified investments, to secure repayment of the amounts borrowed and to minimize the risk of tax credit redemption. Consistent with these investment goals, the board shall give preference to fund managers whose strategies include:
A. Maintaining at least a periodic presence in the State;
B. Actively prospecting for investments in the State;
C. Creating or retaining jobs in the State; and
D. Bringing to fruition the ideas, technologies and intellectual property produced by citizens and institutions of the State. “
The language is vague and suggestive, avoiding specificity and allowing great latitude in interpretaion and application. In the phrase “Maintaing at least a periodic presense in the state”, the terms “periodic” and “presense” are left undefined, while the use of the words “at least” permits the “presense” in Maine to be a mere token. The non-existent paramaters for retaining jobs in the state can be satisfied by the beurocratic jobs withn the SEGF. As for “bringing to fruition the ideas produced by Maine citizens”, there are no specifics about where and how these ideas will be brought to fruition. Since the current government management of Maine’s economy is invested in technological development and since LD1 Is very arguably a charter for a mutual funds corporation, the language of this bill all too easily enables ideas to be developed in Maine and brought to fruition in countries with low labor costs and minimal environmental restrictions, which produce that “quality” investment in the context of the proft motivation of mutual funds
The bill defines “lender” in such terms as would be otherwise be signified by the term “investor”. The preferred “lender” is The Maine Public Employees Management Fund, which, at first glance, has stricter investing requirments than are written in LD1. If the Maine Public Employees Management Fund declines to invest, “the Fund of Funds” can seek other investors.
In section 9, Audits and Reports, LD1 is suddenly written in very specific terms. Section 9 deals with the relationship between the director of “The Fund of Funds” and the SEGF . Section 9 leaves nothing to interpretation when it specificly defines the length of time that constitutes a period, showing clearly that the writers of this law know how and when to be specific.
One instance in which LD1 is very specific is in Section 7, Investment Restrictions, where the exact words are “The fund may not invest directly in individual businesses but only in venture capital funds…” And yet in promoting this bill it is specifically described as a bill to create funds for “innovative” Maine businesses. Other than a requirement to invest 30,000.00 annually in the Maine Patent Fund, there is no specific wording in this bill that requires more than a token investment in businesses located in Maine.
The SEGF promotes this government chartered mutual fund as a means to take the burden off the Maine taxpayer, when in fact it takes the burden of failure off the SEGF and the individual or institutional investors in ” the Fund of Funds” and places it on the Maine Taxpayer in the form of a “tax credit”, which has no specific relationship to “tax payer”. The “tax credit” is guaranteed by a certificate, for which the letter of the law provides no specific requirements or caps, leaving it solely to the discretion of the SEGF. The tax credit will be used to cover any shortfalls that the Fund of Funds runs up against and is said to be legally binding according to Article One, Section 11 of the Maine State Constitution.
I have to question whether the certificates can be legally binding on the Maine state taxpayer because LD1 states “The board (The SEGF) may raise capital for the fund by offering as security certificates issued by the board.”
The SEGF does not have a government website, which suggest that it is a private corporation which has been enabled by our legislature to advance it’s causes using taxpayer dollars to it’s advantage. Section 9 of the Maine State Constitution- Power of taxation, states “ The Legislature shall never, in any manner, suspend or surrender the power of taxation.” A private corporation cannot make binding agreements for the Maine State taxpayer. By obligating the taxpayer to cover shortfalls within the SEGF with “tax credits”, it is implied that taxes will have to be raised as a means of financing the “tax credits”- as needed.
The language of LD1 is very murky about identifying the authority that is granted power to define the terms of the “certificates” backed up by “tax-credits”. It is the job of the legislature to establish the terms of contract, but in the case of LD1 these terms are left undefined- or worse deferred to the SEGF in the following:
1. Credit allowed. A lender to the Maine Fund of Funds as defined in Title 10, section 396, subsection 5 is allowed a refundable credit against the taxes imposed by this Part in an amount certified by the Small Enterprise Growth Board as established under Title 10, section 384 as equal to the shortfall in scheduled payments on debt incurred to provide capital to the Maine Fund of Funds.If the authority to define the terms of agreement remains with the legislature, then the legislature has granted itself the authority to negotiate business contracts, which belongs to the executive branch of government. The Maine State Constitution, Article IV, Section 14 states “Corporations shall be formed under general laws, and shall not be created by special Acts of the Legislature…” Our legislature seems to believe that it can get around the Maine State Constitution through carefully parsed language and that a corporation by another name is not a corporation.
Based on the LD1 vote, all incumbents should be voted out of office. This Act was passed by “the Rule of the Gavel” where by there is a call for objections and if there are none, all are considered to have voted yes.
Article IV, Section 18 of the Maine State Constitution outlines the process by which the people of Maine can veto bills passed by the legislature. There is a 90-day window of opportunity after the close of the legislative session. In LD1. the taxpayer carries the risk but not does not share in the gain. I have created a Facebook page, “Maine Citizens Against Government Chartered Corporations” to find out if there is enough support among the Maine people to warrant initiating a People’s Veto.
An additional effect of mobilizing a People’s Veto is that it would force government-chartered corporations as an election campaign issue. We know that all incumbents are supporting government chartered investment corporations but thus far, to my knowledge, none of the other candidates for state positions have spoken out on this issue, offering no guarantee that electing a non-incumbent would have any effect on moving back toward a constitutional separation between the state and the capitalistic corporation.
I have written on this subject for the online magazine, The Augusta Insider, under the title, “Socializing the Risk and Privatizing the Gain” This article provides links to the bill and the statute used to authorize it. I hope to encourage an open dialogue about what the actual letter of the law legitimizes and to encourage the citizens of Maine to become more actively involved in reading the bills being passed by our legislature rather than accepting the promotional words about said bills at face value, without further examination or debate. The Maine State constitution needs to be included in that debate.
Susan Mackenzie Andersen
East Boothbay, Maine