With the help of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, Maine emerged a clear winner in the corporate tax relief bill signed by President Bush yesterday.
As a member of the Finance Committee who helped draft the bill's final details and a member of the joint Senate/House conference committee, Snowe secured key tax deferrals for General Dynamics Corp., the defense contractor that builds guided-missile destroyers at the Bath Iron Works shipyard. She also cosponsored tax breaks that helped Maine's fishermen, timber interests, railroads, energy plants that burn wood chips, and rural letter carriers.
A Snowe spokesman said the senator was doing her best to protect Maine's economy, particularly the 6,400 jobs at Bath Iron Works. General Dynamics expects the shipyard to build 11 Arleigh Burke class destroyers through 2010.
''Her position on the Finance Committee is a very important tool to make sure the citizens of Maine are heard in Washington," said the senator's spokeswoman, Antonia Ferrier. ''It's all just common-sense tax policy that is a responsible approach to governance." Critics call it pork. Although individual provisions may make sense for a particular state to protect local jobs, the expenses add up and hurt the nation in the long run, said Bob McIntyre, director of the nonprofit consumer group Citizens for Tax Justice in Washington. ''Overall, the bill did poorly for all the states," he said. ''It boosts the deficit, hurts us in trade, and ultimately costs jobs."
The tax deferrals for military shipbuilders across the country will result in $500 million in reduced tax collections through 2014, according to estimates by the Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation. General Dynamics said it had not calculated the tax bill's value to Bath Iron Works.
A section of the bill that allows fishermen to average their income over three years, requested by Snowe and senators in the Pacific Northwest, will cost the US Treasury $61 million over 10 years. It allows fishermen to spread fluctuations in income around, helping them avoid a big tax hit in years when there's a big catch.
Subsidies for energy plants in Maine and around the country that burn wood chips from sawmills, logging debris, and other ''biomass" fuels are among a host of alternative energy tax breaks worth $2.3 billion nationally, according to the estimates.
Timber firms, a longstanding Maine industry, won tax deductions and favorable accounting treatment for reforestation worth $64 million nationally, based on legislation Snowe authored.
Christopher Rowland can be reached at email@example.com.