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Watchdog: Maine Program Designed To Lure Private Investment Lacks Good Tracking Data

Maine State House
Robert F. Bukaty
The Maine State House is seen Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Augusta, Maine.

The Maine Legislature's government watchdog agency says incomplete and inconsistent data make it difficult to assess the effectiveness of a state program designed to attract private investment in small businesses.

The Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit program issued more than $42 million in tax credits to private investors between 2010 and 2020, according to a report by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, or OPEGA.

While those credits were connected to more than $96 million in private investment in more than 100 Maine businesses, OPEGA says it could not determine the efficacy of a program intended to attract investment, create jobs and grow municipal tax bases.

A primary reason, OPEGA says, is a lack of good data — an issue that has long plagued Maine's business incentive programs.

Chris Roney, head of the Finance Authority of Maine, agreed that his agency should have done a better job with reporting and data collection, but he warned lawmakers on the Government Oversight Committee that improving both could hinder program participation.

"We should bear in mind that the desired precision of data and the results may impose additional burdens on the company's investors, and investors involved, as well as serve as potential disincentives for them to participate," he said.

OPEGA outlined several ways to improve data collection and the oversight committee voted unanimously Wednesday to give Roney's agency until November to respond.

While the oversight committee could draft legislation to improve the tax credit program, several members indicated that they might defer to the Legislature's Taxation Committee to pursue such changes.

Over the years the Taxation Committee has contemplated several overhauls to Maine's business incentive programs only to see those efforts mostly fail amid partisan disputes.