Watchdog: Accountability lacking for Pine Tree program

A report suggests a program created by then-Maine Gov. John Baldacci to spur development in economically depressed areas is not helping much, and some lawmakers are ready to scrap the program.

The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability recommended a major overhaul of the Pine Tree Development Zone program, saying it lacks accountability to assess its true capacity to create jobs.

OPEGA senior analyst Jennifer Henderson told lawmakers the watchdog agency is unable to say how many jobs were created by the 13-year-old program that costs taxpayers $12 million a year, Maine Public reported.

"We can't report today what it has actually achieved in terms of jobs. But we can tell you, unequivocally, that the design does not guarantee that a vast number of jobs will be created," Henderson told the Government Oversight Committee.

Baldacci created the program with the idea of giving a jolt to economically depressed areas. The program provides qualifying businesses with tax benefits, including income tax credits and sales tax exemptions for the purchase of business equipment. In exchange, the businesses agree to create jobs.

But businesses have two years to create the jobs, and they're allowed to self-report job creation figures to the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond, of Windham, who sits on the oversight committee, says it's time to ditch the program and move ahead with a new economic development strategy.

"We have to start over because there are so many complications. It's so complex. It's gotten to a point where it's totally lost the profile and purpose that it had originally," Diamond said.

Fellow committee member Tom Saviello, a Republican senator from Wilton, agreed that it may time to scrap the program "unless we want to recommend making major overhaul."

Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner George Gervais urged lawmakers to hear from business owners before making any decisions. Businesses will get the chance to have their say when the committee holds a public hearing in September.


Information from: WMEA-FM,