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Editor's Desk

OPM: Other People's Money
By Ken Anderson
May 27, 2009 - 12:20:42 AM

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If there is one thing that Millinocket  needs, it is business. However, it seems that someone has been playing around with the language again, because I was always under the impression that a business was something that involved either producing a product or performing a service in return for a profit. People who invested time or money into a business would hope to see a return on their investment in the form of a profit. Otherwise, businesses that failed to produce a profit would be forced to go out of business, which sometimes involved filing for bankruptcy. I have been through it and there is no shame in that.

However, now it seems that there is a class of favored people who, by way of having friends in government, are able to bypass the drudgery of finding investors for their business, or risking their own money. Instead, they are able to line up at the public trough for tax money. When they have lined their pockets with enough of other people's money, they are able to go into business for themselves rather than having to look for work like everyone else. It doesn't end there. When their business fails to bring in a profit, rather than having to actually think of a way in which to make their business work, or calling it quits, they simply go back to the public trough, calling on their friends on the town council, state government, or public-funded non-profit, for enough money to tide them over. If they are unable to get their buddies to give it to them free and clear, they might call it a loan, but we all know that it is the sort of loan that never needs to be repaid.

Favored people don't have bankruptcies on their record, and their businesses don't fail. Although they fail to make a profit, our tax money keeps them afloat. Once the tax money dries up, or their friends at the trough are replaced by someone else's friends, they are simply no longer funded.

Oddly enough, they still call this a business, and the public officials who are handing your money out to their friends will point to this as an accomplishment, having saved a much-needed business. These days, we see this on the federal level, we see it on the state level, and we see it on the local level. They often even refer to their having handed your money over to their friends as an investment, as if you, the taxpayer, are ever going to see that money in your bank account.

Because they are considered a business and not a part of government, although they are kept in operation through government funds, they are not expected to account for what they do with the money that they receive.

In 2007, Michael Brown Cabinet Makers received a $275,000 "loan" from the Maine Rural Development Authority, which was part of a $560,000 package that included money from Keybank and from Coastal Enterprises, a non-profit Wiscasset corporation which has been heavily involved in funding the "right people" while discouraging real development in rural Maine. The Maine Rural Development Authority is a state-funded agency, meaning that this is your money.

After they spoke in favor of the Millinocket Area Growth and Investment Council (MAGIC) at a contentious town meeting in which the taxpayers were trying to force the MAGIC-dominated town council to reduce the organization's funding, MAGIC had the town's Pine Tree Zone moved to accommodate Preo and Brown's business, allowing them to enjoy a greatly reduced tax burden.

Just a few days ago, municipal officials from Millinocket, East Millinocket and Medway unanimously approved a request from Michael Brown Cabinet Makers for $3,000 from the Katahdin Area Recovery and Expansion (KARE) committee, with another $3,000 in matching funds promised from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, which means more of your tax money being handed out.

In a tragic irony, only a week before, the Millinocket town council had voted unanimously to reduce the health benefits that had been promised by the town to retired municipal personnel, citing a lack of funds as a reason for having to take this drastic step.

The reality of "free money" is that it has to come from someone. Another reality is that we can't expect it to end anytime soon. The lure of other people's money is way too strong.

The Millinocket town council will be meeting tonight. On the agenda is an item where the council will be voting on approval of a revolving loan fund application from Michael Brown Custom Builders, and there is no reason to think that it won't be approved. Reportedly, Councilor Mike Madore has said that he planned to vote for it because he has been friends with Brown for years. Given the opportunity once again to pass your money on to a friend, can we expect anything else?

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