Below is the text I prepared for remarks on a panel at Maine's annual war tax resistance gathering yesterday in Portland. Despite elaborate preparations with a helpful tech person from USM, when the time came I was unable to show the visuals I had prepared to go along with my talk. So here is the whole presentation as a blog post.
I was honored to meet fellow panelist Georges Budagu Makoko. A member of the Banyamulenge, a Tutsi tribe, George spoke of fleeing from the horrors of war in DRC Congo and then Rwanda. He was granted asylum in the U.S. and became a citizen and father of two young citizens. Now George educates people on how war drives immigration. He led a discussion where several of us considered how to move past fear and take an honest look at how the U.S. military contributes to conflict and suffering around the planet. I want to read his book, Ladder to the Moon.
The third panelist, Bob Klotz of 350 Maine, spoke eloquently of the addiction and suffering he witnesses in his work as a physician's assistant, and the connection to the suffering of the environment under the carbon belching Pentagon.
War Tax Resistance Can Look Like Opposing State Tax Giveaways For Wealthy Corporations
by Lisa Savage 10/27/18
War tax resistance is usually thought of as refusal to pay federal taxes associated with the Pentagon's mammoth budget. But resistance comes in many forms, and a grassroots campaign here in Maine is one of them.
I was asked to speak today about the campaign to resist a $60 million tax giveaway by the state of Maine to the mega wealthy weapons manufacturer General Dynamics.
|Graphic: Providence Journal "Defense firms spend big on lucrative stock buybacks"|
The resistance to this piece of legislation, LD1781, succeeded in reducing the amount to $45 million. It also succeeded in changing the source of the giveaway from being excused from turning over state taxes withheld from workers' paychecks at Bath Iron Works, which is a subsidiary of General Dynamics. It also delayed the bill's passage -- thus driving up the cost of lobbying for GD -- and exposed the Democrat's caucus in the Maine House as liars. It galvanized public support, and drew Maine's big city newspapers into the effort to silence dissent around corporate welfare. It laid bare the bipartisan nature of corporate government we labor under at the city, state and national level.
Some background information is relevant. When "progressive" Democrat Chellie Pingree was still in the Maine legislature in 1997, the then-Senate majority leader spoke out against a tax giveaway for General Dynamics. The occasion? GD was threatening to close the historic Bath Iron Works shipyard it had recently purchased unless Maine taxpayers funded an expansion of the facilities there. Pingree was quoted at the time as saying, “I don’t think BIW would deny that General Dynamics could pay for the expansion. The question is, ‘Would they?’”
By the time Pingree had ascended to Congress, she defended her support of Pentagon budgets by explaining to me personally that she had been threatened in Washington DC by an unidentified "they" i.e. "They say, do you want to be responsible for the loss of 3,000 jobs your first term in office?"
The threat worked well, because Pingree's vote just recently helped pass the largest Pentagon budget in years.
Community organizers in the city of Bath have fought this kind of thinking for years now. They've opposed big tax breaks for BIW from Bath as well as from Maine. They've worked with the workers and the unions at BIW to oppose the warped thinking that relies on fear and arm twisting to squeeze tax breaks from cash strapped public entities while executives receive tens of millions annually, and billions are expended buying back General Dynamics' own stock.
They've shared the news that building weapons is actually an ineffective jobs program; studies show that thousands more jobs are generated by investing in health care, education, or other kinds of manufacturing.
|Bath residents Bruce Gagnon and Mary Beth Sullivan outside General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works shipyard.|
So much for background. A chronology of this year's campaign against LD1781 goes something like this:
Democrats Jennifer DeChant in the Maine House and Eloise Vitelli in the Maine Senate agree to co-sponsor a bill written by lobbying firm Preti Flaherty on behalf of General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works.
Rep. DeChant blocks videographer Martha Spiess from attending an informational meeting requested by her constituents in Bath. She later admits this was wrong and apologizes. But, she subsequently blocks me from her account as a Maine legislator on Twitter.
Investigative journalist Alex Nunes of Rhode Island contacts Maine resistance organizers to offer his expertise on General Dynamics' strong arming of state governments in Rhode Island and Connecticut. He provides data on executive compensation, earnings, and stock buybacks by General Dynamics.
Nunes' freedom of access request turns up email exchanges between Rep. DeChant and BIW vice president John Fitzgerald. The two discuss strategy to pass the bill, including not engaging with her constituent Gagnon whom Fitzgerald mis-characterizes as "a one man band."
I share a cartoon with legislators which names 80 people who stand with Gagnon in opposing LD1781. Seventeen organizations in Maine endorse the resistance campaign. Letters to the editor and op-eds pour in to Maine's newspapers opposing LD1781, so many that the Bangor Daily News and the Kennebec Journal stop printing them all (I know this because one of mine was among those not published).
Gagnon begins a hunger strike at the gates of BIW and vows to continue until the bill is voted up or down by Maine legislators. He encounters Fitzgerald, who yells at him. Supporter Mary Kathleen organizes solidarity fasting by 27 folks in Maine and beyond. Regis Tremblay makes a series of videos about the hunger strike which he publishes on YouTube to be shared on social media.
Hundreds of us contact our alleged representatives in the Maine legislature to express opposition to the tax giveaway bill.
LD1781 stalls in a series of contentious hearings in the Maine legislature's Taxation Committee. BIW vice president Fitzgerald testifies and makes the fatuous statement, "For us to be punished because our owner has capital seems unjust!"
I create a cartoon showing real injustice: 43,000 children in Maine growing up in poverty while the bloated wealthy feed from the public trough. The cartoon is shared widely via email and social media.
Bloggers and alternative media run articles opposing the tax giveaway. Community radio station WERU interviews several resistance leaders.
The Bollard, a Portland monthly, runs a cover story titled "Ship Of Fools" by editor Chris Busby that features the chilling subhead "Tax breaks for BIW, World War III for us."
Citizen lobbyists throng the halls outside the taxation committee hearing with signs and leaflets expressing their opposition to LD1781.
They attempt to speak with legislators who pass by deep in conversation with BIW executives and Preti Flaherty lobbyists. Eventually the public is excluded from the taxation committee hearing room as BIW fills the seats with employees it busses in and pays to attend.
Constituents are sidelined into a separate room where they can watch the hearings on closed circuit television.
The bill is revised to reduce the ask to 75% of the original, and to restructure the source of the tax giveaway from payroll tax withholding to state income taxes BIW owes.
BIW's largest union, S6, declines to endorse the bill.
The bill finally emerges from committee with an "ought to pass" that at least one member of the committee admitted was wrong but voted for anyway (you may well speculate on Rep. Ryan Tipping's motivations for that choice).
The Democratic Caucus in the Maine House falsely tells members that all unions at BIW are in favor of the tax giveaway bill. My husband Mark Roman gets a panicky reaction from our Republican representative Bradley Farrin when he mentions that S6 failed to endorse; Farrin does some hasty research on his phone (presumably, looks for an email from Preti Flaherty) and assures Roman that S6 just hasn't endorsed the bill "yet." At least one rep expresses anger that she has been lied to in caucus.
On medical advice, Gagnon ends his hunger strike on day 37 just prior to the floor vote on the bill. A handful of legislators voted no, and the tax giveaway passed into law granting $15 million less than General Dynamics and its wealthy executives and shareholders had asked for.
Was it worth it?
|Courthouse support for Aegis 9 civil disobedience trial in Bath featured resistance to LD1781|
Scores of people in Maine and beyond collaborated on this resistance effort. Environmental activists who know war is not good for climate. Educators who know war budgets aren’t good for schoolchildren. Grandparents who know war is not good for anyone’s children. This campaign was beneficial in that it brought people together to work for the common good.
It also provided a good platform for communicating beyond the choir about where our tax dollars go and about who really deserves to benefit from public support.