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Taxes in Maine
  • Maine's Susan Collins and the Duping of Centrists

    By David Leonhardt, December 10, 2017 in the New York Times

    Susan Collins is often called one of the last centrists. She is a classic New England Republican, a senator who mostly votes with her party but is willing to buck it.

    A couple of weeks ago, Collins made a classic Collins deal. It tried to split the difference between Democratic and Republican positions.

    But it sure looks like a bum deal now. It also looks like a cautionary tale for anyone who wants to occupy the political center during the age of Donald Trump and a radicalized Republican Party.

    Here’s the back story: Collins said that she would vote for the recent Senate tax bill so long as Republicans leaders promised to pass other legislation — in the near future — that would reduce the bill’s knock-on damage to health care programs.

    She laid out three conditions. She wanted her colleagues to pass two separate bills that would shore up insurance markets for people who weren’t covered through their job. And she wanted congressional leaders to promise to undo the Medicare and Medicaid cuts automatically triggered by the deficit increase from the tax cut.

    Her colleagues assured her they would pass the bills she wanted — not immediately but soon after the tax bill had passed. Collins decided that was good enough, and on Dec. 2, she became one of 51 yes votes on the tax bill.

    When Collins describes her deal, she makes it sound both ironclad — her word — and substantial. She has spoken of a personal commitment from Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. And she’s emphasized that the deal isn’t merely for show. It will, she insists, protect Medicaid and Medicare — two programs particularly important to Mainers, given the state’s large elderly population.

    “I also got an ironclad commitment that we’re not going to see cuts in the Medicaid/Medicare program as a result of this bill,” Collins said on “Meet the Press.”

    But some of Collins’s fellow Republicans evidently have a different definition of ironclad.

    Within days of the Senate vote on the tax bill, conservative House Republicans started saying that they didn’t care about her deal. She did not make it with them, and they do not feel bound by it as they negotiate the bill’s final language with the Senate. These House members, as Politico put it Friday, have decided to “thumb their nose” at Collins.

    Meanwhile, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, has been undermining Collins in his own way. He has made clear that he will use the new deficits created by the tax bill to justify the very thing Collins opposes: Medicare and Medicaid cuts. Those programs, Ryan told a talk-radio host, are “really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.” Cutting them is a top priority for 2018.

    If anything, Ryan’s snub is more significant. House conservatives might still fold and approve the narrow deal that Collins thought she had. But Republicans will not permit the more meaningful promise she’s made — that the tax bill won’t lead to health care cuts. Tax cuts and health care cuts are inexorably bound.

    So in exchange for her vote, Collins received, at best, a cosmetic fix that she will have to pretend is something more.

    What was her mistake? It was both tactical and strategic.

    The tactical error was to fritter her moment of leverage, when the Senate bill’s fate was uncertain and she had the potential to influence other swing senators. Instead of demanding something real, she accepted vague promises.

    She can still vote against the version of the bill that emerges from House-Senate negotiations, but she doesn’t have the sway she did before. Senators usually don’t switch their vote at this stage, and the tax bill will pass without her if no other Republican flips (with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie.)

    Her strategic error is the one that holds lessons for other would-be centrists. Namely, she defined the political center in relative terms rather than substantive terms. Republican leaders — not just Trump, but McConnell and Ryan too — have moved sharply to the right. They are rushing through a bill without the normal procedures. They are making verifiably false claims about it. And they have decided that taking health insurance away from Americans is a core Republican principle.

    Collins made the mistake of chasing after an impossible deal. She wanted to position herself between the two political parties, and she wanted to protect Medicare and Medicaid. When it proved impossible to do both, she claimed otherwise — and put a higher priority on politics than policy.

    In Trump’s Washington, other centrist Republicans are going to face a version of her dilemma, again and again. They are going to have decide which matters more to them: being a loyal Republican or being an actual centrist.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/10/opinion/susan-collins-healthcare-centrists.html

  • Mayors' Coalition Urges Maine's Congressional Delegation to Retain the State and Local Tax (SALT) and Historic Tax Credit Deductions

    The developers, Tom Niemann and Paul Burgosian, of the Hathaway Center in Waterville took a discarded shirt factory and transformed it, using the Historic Tax Credits and state tax incentives. Hundreds of people now work at the center the tax credit is transforming downtowns across Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    The Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development has asked Maine's Congressional Delegation to oppose any tax reform package that eliminates or reduces the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction or the Historic Tax Credit. 

    Since 2008 the Historic Tax Credit has yielded 5,180 jobs in Maine and generated $42,2 Million in revenue. The credit has also been a catalyst to revitalizing many of Maine’s historic downtowns, like the Hathaway Center in Waterville.

    "The Historic Tax Credit must not get lost in the tax reform discussions," urged Alan Casavant, Mayor of Biddeford. "Saco and Biddeford are growing today thanks in large part to the redevelopment of our old mill buildings. That would not have been possible without the Historic Tax Credit." Eliminating the Historic Tax Credit is especially short-sighted because it returns more revenue to the Treasury than it costs. The return is $1.20-$1.25 for every $1 of credit according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation (savingplaces.org).

    The legislation that recently emerged from the House of Representatives would cap SALT deductions at $10,000 for property taxes only and eliminate the Historic Tax Credit. On November 28, 2017 the Senate Budget Committee approved a package that would eliminate the SALT deduction entirely.

    "The SALT deduction is an essential part of good tax policy," said David Rollins, Mayor of Augusta. "No Maine resident should pay federal tax on income that has already been paid to state or municipal government. SALT has been part of federal tax policy since 1913." Nearly 180,000 Maine households currently take advantage of SALT, with total income deductions of over $2 billion (source: National Association of Counties, www.naco.org).

    "Eliminating SALT will be an immediate tax increase on thousands of hard working Mainers," notes Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling. "Residents of service center communities will be especially hard hit because they are subject to higher municipal tax rates."

    "I am concerned that eliminating SALT will put local government services at risk while increasing the real cost of home ownership," new Belfast Mayor Sarah Paradis. "Belfast residents are clear that high property tax rates are their primary concern. Eliminating SALT will increase their taxes, further stretching limited household budgets."

    The Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development was formed in 2012. The Coalition includes the Mayors of ten Maine communities. The purpose of the Coalition is to advocate for state policies that will grow Maine’s economy statewide by providing the infrastructure, skilled workforce, and reasonable tax rates necessary to support such growth.

    The Coalition brings together the Mayors of Augusta, Bangor, Belfast, Biddeford, Lewiston, Portland, Saco, Sanford, and Westbrook. This is a bi-partisan group that represents municipalities with a combined population of more than 240,000.

     

     

  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

    The official tabulation of votes from the June 13, 2017 Special Referendum Election show that the bond issue was approved overwhemingly by Maine voters.

    The Elections Division has certified the results and Gov. Paul LePage signed the official vote proclamation.

    The certified election results show a total of 63,468 votes in favor of the bond issue, and 39,549 votes in opposition. Voters cast a total of 104,213 ballots in this single-question statewide referendum, with 1,196 blanks.

    Question 1 asked: “Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to provide $45,000,000 in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people, to be awarded through a competitive process to Maine-based public and private entities, leveraging other funds in a one-to-one ratio and $5,000,000 in funds to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation?”

    The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services. Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment. Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability.

    The Elections Division will post the results online this week at http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/index.html.

    The legislation will become law 30 days from the date of the official proclamation (July 21, 2017).

  • Democrats introduce measures to reduce Maine's Property Taxes

    On April 12, 2107 Democrats on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA) formally introduced three amendments outlined in their budget proposal, The Opportunity Agenda. The plan calls for the largest property tax cut in Maine history; invests in jobs and the economy; fully funds public schools; makes college degrees more affordable and attainable; supports families, seniors, children and veterans; and provides meaningful student debt relief.

    “For years, homeowners have seen their property tax rates skyrocket to cover the cost of education and essential services,” said Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook), chair of the AFA committee. “Direct property tax relief, as outlined in these amendments, will enable Mainers to keep more money in their pockets and municipalities to balance their budgets without increasing property taxes.  We’ve heard from our constituents that this is their priority and we are committed to being the voice of the people in this budget debate.” 

    “For as long as I’ve been in public service, whether on the Town Council or in the Senate, constituents have been consistent in their demand for lower property taxes, and I intend to deliver. The Homestead Exemption provides targeted relief to people who build their lives and raise their families in Maine. To be eligible, the home must be a primary residence — not a summer home or an income property. Increasing the exemption will put money right back into Mainers’ pockets, which they can save or spend in the local economy,” said Sen. Cathy Breen of Falmouth, the Senate Democratic lead on the Committee, who introduced an amendment to grow the Homestead Exemption. 

    The amendments proposed included: 

    • Increasing the Homestead Exemption - The proposed amendment would increase the share of exempted value by 50 percent - going from $20,000 to $25,000 in the first year of the biennium, and to $30,000 in the second year.  Estimated $50 million dollars in tax relief.
    • Expanding the Property Tax Fairness Credit - This program gives refundable tax credits to low- and middle-income homeowners and renters to offset high property tax  and rent costs.  The amendment offered would expand the benefit to reach more Maine families. Estimated $33 million dollars in tax relief.
    • Increasing Municipal Revenue Sharing -  The Municipal Revenue Sharing program redirects a percentage of the state’s total sales and income tax revenue back to communities to cover the cost of essential services such as law enforcement, road and bridge maintenance, and fire protection. The amendment offered would increase the percentage from 2% to 3%. Estimated $64 million sent back to municipalities. 

    “Our plan uses every tool available to provide the largest property tax relief effort in our state’s history,” said Speaker of the House Sara Gideon (D-Freeport). “As we work through this process, it will be clear that our plan capitalizes on our natural advantages, delivers quality services and invests in Maine’s future. That’s what Mainers want and we intend to deliver.”

  • Maine House Democrats champion real efforts to lower property taxes

     

    Two measures would expand the homestead property tax exemption

    Many Mainers could see a reduced property tax bill thanks to two proposals that seek to expand the Maine Homestead Exemption.

    Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, introduced legislation Monday to increase the statewide homestead exemption in 2018. 

    “Of all the taxes we use to fund state and local government, the property tax has become the most regressive,” said Rep. McLean. “Homeowners who are trying to make ends meet, particularly the elderly who are on a fixed income, are seeing more and more of their dollars going to pay property taxes. The homestead exemption is a beneficial tool that has alleviated the burden faced by too many Mainers when they pay their property taxes.”

    Under current law, the homestead exemption is set to increase from $15,000 to $20,000 on or after April 1, 2017. Rep. McLean’s bill would increase the total exemption to $30,000 for property tax years beginning on or after April 1, 2018.

    A second measure, submitted by Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio, D-Sanford, raises the homestead property tax exemption for Maine’s seniors.

    LD 73 would increase the homestead property tax exemption to $50,000 for persons who are 75 years of age or older. 

    Mastraccio submitted the bill to enable all Mainers, regardless of income, to stay in Maine or age in place.

    “The increase in exemption would kick in at a time when life changes may be impacting a Mainer’s income in a negative way,” said Mastraccio. “This legislation would reward people who choose to stay in Maine as well as help seniors on fixed incomes remain in their homes.”

    Both bills will be scheduled for work sessions in the coming days.

    Rep. Mastraccio is serving her third term in the Maine House and represents part of Sanford. She is the House chair of the Government Oversight Committee and also serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. 

    Rep. McLean is serving his third term in the Maine House and is the House chair of the Transportation Committee. He represents parts of Gorham and Scarborough.

  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • Republican legislators that voted against property tax relief, students and factory workers exposed

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee launched a series of digital ads challenging four Republican state legislators for their key votes against property tax relief, teachers and working Mainers.

    “These four Republican legislators have repeatedly voted against the interests of hardworking Mainers, and these ads call them out by name,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett. “Mainers deserve to know where their legislators stand, and these ads show just that. We will continue to hold Republicans accountable for failing to fight for the people they are supposed to serve.” 

    Workers at Kennebec Lumber in Solon, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, Sen. Scott Cyrway of Benton, Sen. Rodney Whittemore of Skowhegan, and Rep. Ricky Long of Sherman all voted against major bills:

    1. to provide property tax relief for seniors, 
    2. to address Maine’s dire teacher shortage,
    3. a “Buy America” bill that would have required state contractors to use materials made in the United States.

    Wielder in Waterville, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Voters need senators who will work every day to give them a fighting chance, so that people who work hard and play by the rules can get ahead,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond. “Our candidates are committed to an economy in which everyone has a fair shot at success. These ads highlight the simple question Mainers all over the state have for Republicans in the Legislature: Where were you when Maine’s seniors, students and manufacturing workers needed you?”

    Maine is one of only ten states in the nation that have not recovered all the jobs it lost in the recession. The state continues to lag behind the rest of New England economically. 

    The digital ads can be found at the links below:

  • Maine legislature enacts a bill to change the tax code and school funding- good for schools

    The Maine Legislature on March 9, 2016, passed a bill package that conforms Maine’s tax laws with recent changes to federal law, while providing $15 million in additional funding for local school districts.

    The tax conformity bill, LD 1583, conforms fully with the federal tax extender bill approved by Congress in 2015, and funds extensions of tax relief for businesses, teachers and homeowners for two years. The Senate enacted the bill with a unanimous vote, following a 121-19 enactment vote in the House of Representatives.

    The school funding bill, LD 1641, provides an additional $15 million of state aid to local schools, which are facing a shortfall in funding from the state. The Department of Education has recommended $20.9 million to keep local property tax rates from rising. The bill also creates a Blue Ribbon Commission to study school funding, to ensure the state is doing the best it can to provide for K-12 education. The Senate enacted LD 1641 with a unanimous vote, after a 131-8 vote in the House of Representatives.

    Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, called the passage of LD 1583 a “huge win for Maine’s small businesses and for all tax filers.”

    “As I said before, tax conformity is the seed corn of our economic future, because the seeds we plant now will greatly benefit us in the short and long term,” Thibodeau said. “By passing this bill, we are telling businesses that they are appreciated and welcome here in Maine, and that will benefit all of us. I was pleased that we were able to provide additional resources for education which will help our local communities mitigate property tax increases.”

    The package culminates weeks of negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders and Gov. Paul LePage.

    “I knew that if we kept negotiating, we could arrive at ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ -- we could do the right thing for our job creators and for our schools. It never had to be one or the other,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland. “This compromise gives Maine businesses every advantage to invest in more jobs, and provides critical money to school districts dealing with budget shortfalls.”


    Having been enacted in both the House and Senate, the tax conformity/education funding package has been sent to the governor, who has publicly pledged to sign both when they cross his desk.


    ###

  • Citizens’ initiative to regulate and tax marijuana does not qualify for ballot

    by Ramona du Houx

    The citizens’ initiative petition effort to legalize and tax marijuana does not have enough valid signatures of Maine voters to qualify for the 2016 ballot, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap confirmed on March 2, 2016.

    Over 47 thousand petitions submitted were not valid. That's right, 47,000.

    The petitions for “An Act To Legalize Marijuana,” which was combined with a similar citizens’ initiative effort to legalize marijuana, had been in circulation since April 28, 2015. On Feb. 1, 2016, the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions received 20,671 petitions with 99,229 total signatures of those who support the initiative.

    Staff members at the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions have completed the process of certifying all of the petitions and have found a maximum of 51,543 valid signatures (subject to checking for duplicates), while 47,686 proved to be not valid. A minimum of 61,123 valid signatures from registered Maine voters is required in the citizens’ initiative process and the effort has failed to meet that threshold.

    According to the proposed bill summary, this legislation proposed to legalize the possession, purchase, growth and sale of marijuana to those who are at least 21 years of age, and tax its sale, among other provisions. Visithttp://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/citizens/index.html to view the proposed legislation in its entirety. 

  • Maine's tax reform must give the best deal to middle class and people in need

    Editorial by Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. Editorial first appeared in the Bangor Daily News


    A strong middle class. A solid foundation for our children’s future. A secure retirement for our seniors.

    This is what Democrats are fighting for every day. We believe that if you work hard, you should be able to build a life for your family, put your kids on a pathway to success and expect to age in dignity.

    Here in the State House, this is what we have in mind as we craft legislation, debate policy and build a state budget. Tax conformity is no exception.

    States regularly face the question of tax conformity. The heart of the issue is whether a state wants its tax code to mirror that of the federal government and, if so, by how much.

    A bill that deals with tax conformity is making its way through the Maine Legislature. There’s much to like about tax conformity, including predictability for Maine families and businesses that need to file tax returns in a timely fashion and tax relief for Maine’s small businesses, homeowners, students and teachers who use their own hard-earned money to provide supplies in their classrooms.

    Democrats embrace the parts of the tax conformity bill that help Maine’s middle class grow and thrive. We strongly support the mortgage interest deduction because it helps Mainers become homeowners and establish their financial security, the deductions for higher education costs because they help young Mainers gain the skills to compete in a global economy, and the incentives for small businesses because they help them grow and create jobs in Maine.

    But the tax conformity bill put forward by Gov. Paul LePage isn’t simply about syncing the federal and state tax codes. He has sent the Legislature a proposal that includes an element that needs our careful scrutiny. It’s called the Maine Capital Investment Credit, and it primarily benefits large corporations based outside of Maine. It would cost Maine taxpayers $23 million.

    The Maine Capital Investment Credit is Maine’s version of bonus depreciation. But rather than precisely mirroring the federal program, it is altered in significant ways. These types of programs were originally intended to help the economy during the Great Recession, but it’s not at all clear how effective they truly are. It’s worth noting that no other New England state is adopting a program like this. That ought to give us pause as we decide whether this is the most fiscally responsible use of $23 million of Maine taxpayer money.

    Democrats question whether this is the best use of $23 million. We see need in our classrooms. We know that property tax relief is needed by families, local businesses and seniors whose ability to stay in their homes is threatened by property tax spikes. We know we must also address priorities such as improving services for veterans, boosting economic development through broadband access and combating the drug crisis that is killing five Mainers every week.

    Many school districts across Maine are grappling with the news that the state will be providing them with less support for education. Recently released projections from the state Department of Education indicate that in many local communities, the state share will be dramatically lower for the 2016-17 school year. Maine property taxpayers are facing a total shortfall estimated at $23 million.

    This leaves communities in the position of making cuts in the classroom or having their local property taxpayers pick up a larger portion of the tab.

    Will the education of a community’s children have to suffer? Will young families trying to get established and seniors on fixed incomes see their property taxes go up? Will towns have to cut back on services such as emergency personnel, road maintenance and trash pickup?

    We cannot simply provide a $23 million tax break to large corporate filers headquartered out of state without close scrutiny. That would be an affront to Maine taxpayers — the families, seniors and local businesses that expect us to be working on their behalf.

    If we are going to provide tax relief to businesses, we ought to prioritize the small Maine businessess that form the backbone of our economy. They make up nearly 97 percent of our employers, employ the majority of Maine workers and are committed to Maine communities.

    We will not simply rubber stamp the governor’s proposal as is. We will fight for the best deal for Maine people. We will put Maine first.

  • LePage administration secrecy holds up tax breaks for small businesses, homeowners, students

     Lawmakers on the Taxation Committee on Wednesday tabled Gov. Paul LePage’s $38 million tax conformity package after the administration refused to provide information about how it would pay for the entire plan, which includes a $22 million tax cut to benefit large, out-of-state corporations.

    Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen told committee members that the administration would only share information about funding sources once legislators approve the bill.

    Democrats on the committee support the portions of tax conformity that benefit small businesses, teachers, homeowners and students. Those benefits face unnecessarily delay because the LePage administration will not disclose important details of its plan, which will grant tax breaks to big, out-of-state corporations through a separate section of package.

    Tax conformity will be one of the most consequential pieces of legislation to be considered this session. Meanwhile, the administration has already printed tax forms assuming the Legislature will follow its lead and pass the governor’s conformity plan it its entirety.

    “Only in political la-la-land would a person support politicians who fund $22 million in kickbacks for big corporate filers headquartered out of state without knowing how to pay for it,” said Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, House chair of the Taxation Committee. “It’s particularly frustrating that the LePage administration is holding up tax relief for small businesses, teachers, homeowners and students so it can hide a secret stash of funding.”

    Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, the lead Senate Democrat on the committee, criticized Commissioner Rosen for saying he wouldn’t reveal the governor’s plans to pay for the tax conformity package until after the committee agreed to pass it.

    “The Taxation Committee isn’t a rubber stamp for anyone, including the governor,” said Sen. Libby. “We have to do our due diligence, and that means we need the information required to make good policy decisions for the people of Maine. The administration can’t hold necessary information and expect us to sign a blank check.”

     

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • Maine state Rep. Devin introduces bill to mitigate sudden spikes in special education costs

     Towns that experience sudden spikes in special education costs would have the chance to seek recourse at the state level under proposed legislation from Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle.

    Devin submitted the bill in response to a recent budget crisis in Damariscotta in which a single student required the abnormally large amount of roughly $200,000 worth of special education services. While Damariscotta was not responsible for the entire bill, the cost was still difficult for a small town to absorb into its budget.

    By law, towns pay the entire cost up front. Their partial reimbursement from the state comes in small installments over an extended period of time.

    “Cost spikes like the one in Damariscotta have already happened three times in Lincoln County over last decade,” said Devin. “Without some kind of action from the Legislature, we run the risk of crippling more local school budgets, squeezing already-strapped property taxpayers and dealing with cuts to both school programs and basic town services. We need to fix this problem before it happens again.” 

    Devin’s bill would have the state step in to work with towns during future unexpected spikes. If the measure is considered in the upcoming session, the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee would likely decide what that intervention would look like.

    Recently schools in Rockland and RSU 71 in the Belfast area have experienced similar spikes. Devin is currently seeking information about school districts from around the state to determine the extent of the problem. 

    “Towns don’t have the same freedom or flexibility to address these types of emergencies that the state does,” said Steven Bailey, superintendent of the Central Lincoln County School System, or AOS 93. “If we want all our students to have a quality public education without breaking the bank, the Legislature needs to find a way to work together with Damariscotta and other parts of Maine that are having a similar experience.”

    During even-numbered years, the Legislature generally limits bill submissions to those that address pressing situations.

    The Legislative Council, a bipartisan group of leaders from the Maine House and Senate, will decide Thursday whether Devin’s bill should be considered this year.

    Devin is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

     

  • Tax-rebate scam costs taxpayers millions for Mainers

    Three-card Monte, Nigerian princes, New Markets Tax Credits — what do they have in common? They promise big returns if you will just put your money up front. But you wind up a lot poorer and, hopefully, a bit wiser from the experience.

    Some out-of-state companies have bilked Maine taxpayers out of millions of dollars — $35.5 million to be exact — with a 21st Century financial con job that promised new hope for shuttered or faltering Maine mills and the men and women with jobs hanging in the balance, but grabbed the money and hit the road.

    The story gets worse: Because some Republicans in the Maine Legislature recently rejected legislation that would have held these companies accountable and prevented further abuses in a state tax-credit program, Maine taxpayers will remain on the financial hook for millions in taxpayer dollars annually to the very same companies that orchestrated complex financial schemes completed in a single day without making any mill upgrades at all.

    The Maine Legislature created the New Markets Capital Investment Program in 2011 to encourage new capital investments in aging mills in economically distressed parts of Maine. The problem is, instead of upgrading old mills to keep them running and Maine people working, companies have claimed $35.5 million in tax rebates for “investments” that were never actually made in Maine mills.

    Instead, these companies used financial maneuvers that the IRS calls “sham transactions” to con Maine taxpayers out of millions. Those abuses were documented in a two-part series in April by Maine Sunday Telegram reporter Whit Richardson.

    I often wonder, when I see the old Wausau Mill here in Chisholm that closed in late 2008 and early 2009 leaving more than 200 Mainers out of work, how many paper makers might still be working there if we had a program back then that actually invested in Maine mills and their workforces.

    How many Maine mill owners might have been able to upgrade their facilities with the $35.5 million we were cheated out of through the New Markets program? How many employers in western Maine and other economically distressed regions might have been able to keep mills operating? How many Maine employers, workers would still have jobs to support their families?

    Many workers in my legislative district (Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls) must now commute to jobs in Lewiston, Augusta, Bath/Brunswick and Portland.

    Through my work as a job service manager for the Maine Department of Labor from 1984 to 2003, we talked regularly with workers and unemployed workers in those communities.

    We helped workers find jobs and get back on their feet after layoffs or mill closures. We also helped unemployed workers, who qualified and chose retraining/education to find a new career or to relocate if they found qualifying work elsewhere.

    While Maine taxpayers are footing the bill for the millions of dollars companies received that benefited from the New Markets tax scam, thousands of Maine workers have lost the ability to work in their own communities.

    Although I retired from the Department of Labor in 2003, my work instilled in me a sense of urgency to make sure the state’s economic-development programs work for Maine people.

    Legislators owe it to all Maine taxpayers to ensure those tax-credit programs accomplish their intended purposes, to fix them if they don’t, and to hold accountable those who benefit by gaming the system.

    That is why I voted with the majority on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Education Committee to stop further abuse of the $50 million remaining in the New Markets program and to reject a request from the Finance Authority of Maine for an additional $250 million for the program.

    The majority also developed legislation to prevent future payoffs for bogus investments and sham transactions. The Maine House approved this legislation, but Republicans in the Maine Senate killed it. They should be held accountable for millions in taxpayer dollars lost on a scheme worthy of Charles Ponzi or Bernie Madoff. Legislators should invest in Maine businesses and Maine workers, not out-of-state scam artists.

    Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, is a fourth-term member of the Maine House of the Representatives and serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

  • Maine House, Senate set to vote on bipartisan budget deal on June 16th

    By Ramona du Houx

    Democratic and Republican legislative leaders on the evening of June 15th announced a bipartisan budget agreement that will prevent a shutdown of state government.

    Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Waldo said, “I believe this budget has something for everyone in Maine. We were sent here to represent them, and I am pleased that we were able to lower their tax burden while at the same time take steps to keep property taxes in check and fund vital state services," said Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Waldo. 

    The agreement includes tax cuts, investment in students and workers, property tax relief, and welfare reform. The House and Senate will take up the Appropriations budget bill Tuesday morning, offering House floor amendments to reflect the bipartisan agreement.

    “In divided government, compromise is the only option, ” said Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “I'm pleased we've reached an agreement that will grow our economy and improve the lives of Maine families. While no one in our negotiations got everything they wanted, we worked hard to deliver progress for the people of Maine.”

    Compromise is never easy but this is how governing works. In Maine, we can see beyond our differences and find areas of mutual agreement to move our state forward,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland. “This budget invests in our youngest and our oldest, our workers and our retirees, and provides a meaningful tax cut to all Mainers."

    The four leaders have been meeting and working toward agreement since the state’s budget writing committee reported out a budget on June 5.

    “After weeks of tough negotiations we have reached an agreement that we feel moves Maine forward,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport.  

  • Annual reports for business and nonprofit entities in Maine are due June 1st

    The Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions is once again reminding all business and nonprofit entities that annual reports are due this coming Monday, June 1, 2015.

    The deadline notice was originally sent out in early May to all business and nonprofit entities that are on file with the Secretary of State's office as of December 31, 2014.

    Those who have not yet filed can do so via the Secretary of State's online filing system. To file online, go to https://www10.informe.org/aro/index_on.html . Payment can be made by Visa, MasterCard, Discover, electronic check or with a subscriber account.

    A substantial late-filing penalty will be assessed, and may not be waived, on all reports received after the June 1, 2015 filing deadline.

    The annual report fee is $85 for domestic business entities, $150 for foreign business entities and $35 for domestic or foreign nonprofit corporations. Entities that filed online in a previous year will be able to review the information provided at that time, and will simply need to update that information as necessary prior to filing this year's report.

    The Secretary of State's Corporations Division can assist with questions regarding annual report filing or changing an address. The division can be reached at (207) 624-7752 or by email at cec.corporations@maine.gov .

  • Union solidarity at BIW in Maine

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

    By Ramona du Houx

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally to promote solidarity during the year before the union’s contract expires.

    “The union is behind its leadership, and the company is going to have to negotiate with us and not dictate to us," said Jay Wadleigh, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6. “They need to abide by the contract, stop misleading the media and just work with us so we can get the costs of these ships down. We’re the best shipbuilders in the world. We want to work. We just want to be treated with dignity and respect and be negotiated with and not dictated to.”

    BIW is known as one of the best shipbuilders in America. It's slogan is "Bath Built is Best Built."

    This is the second big march at the shipyard this year. On March 24 nearly 1,000 members of the International Association of Machinists Union Local marched to rallying support and protesting a variety of proposed BIW changes.

    Caps on defense spending have resulted in fewer Naval contracts thus spurring the BIW changes including outsourcing work and cross-training employees.

    BIW says the measures will increase the shipyard’s efficiency and keep the costs of building destroyers competitive. The shipyard insists it needs to be competitive to win two bidding contracts. But the union says there are better ways to cut costs. The stalemate has resulted in a third-party arbitration and a federal lawsuit charging BIW with violating its contract with workers.


    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

  • GOP gives huge tax breaks to top 1 percent while raising taxes for working Mainers and seniors

    Distributional analysis of Maine Republican and Democratic tax plans

    By Ramona du Houx

    The saga of sorting out the various tax proposals under consideration this year is epic. Yet, simplified, it comes down to two camps with different principles. One wants to strengthen the middleclass, grow jobs, and give a hand up to the working poor. The other wants to give Maine's top 1 percent huge tax breaks. The most recent Republican tax plan increases taxes for working Mainers and seniors while decreasing taxes for the rich. While the Democritic plan lowers property taxes and helps to lower some income taxes.

    When Gov. Paul LePage wrote his extreme tax plan into his budget proposal, he made it harder for lawmakers to sort out the actual two-year budget. LePage’s tax expenditures and breaks projected into the future, which is something a two-year budget is not designed to do.

    Seeing the damaging impact that proposal would have on citizens - as property taxes and sales taxes would certainly rise under LePage’s plan - Democrats revised it making sure middleclass workers and the poor would have “a better deal.”

    In an attempt to sidetrack lawmakers and refocus the media the governor announced his legislation to end income tax. The Tax Committee rejected that.

    Then, after months of work from the Appropriations Committee, the place lawmakers form the budget - the governor gives them a makeover of his original tax plan - at the last minute. Keep in mind adjournment of the legislature is in a matter of weeks. If they don't finish the work, taxpayers will have to pay for their extra time. Something LePage, no doubt, could have had in mind as he tried to ramrod his new plan.

    LePage's tactics are getting old. Even folks in his party are revolting. The following is what the economist Garrett Martin, of the Maine Center of Economic Policy has to say about their proposal:

     

    Legislative Republicans have released a tax plan that is a bad deal for working Mainers and seniors living on fixed incomes. Based on preliminary analysis the Maine Center for Economic Policy conducted in conjunction with the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Mainers with income less than $57,000 will, on average, receive a tax increase under the Republican plan. That means approximately 60 percent of Maine people will get a tax increase on average if the Republican plan passes.

    The Republican plan is a bad deal. It prioritizes income tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations at the expense of the rest of us. Future impacts will be even worse as the Republican plan shifts more costs to low- and middle-income property taxpayers and it further compromises the state’s capacity to fund our schools, provide for low-income seniors, children, and people with disabilities, and maintain vital public services.

    The Republican plan reflects the discredited theory that income tax cuts will put Maine on the path to prosperity. They won’t. Maintaining public investments in our schools and communities will. And a robust and progressive state income tax is the foundation of such investments. This will not only help secure funding for public investments beneficial to all Maine families and businesses, it will also create a tax system where what the rich and poor pay in state and local taxes as a share of their income is more fair.

    Stay tuned as we release more analysis on the Republican plan. In the meantime, MECEP urges lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to work toward crafting a budget that includes both responsible, fair tax reforms that benefit middle- and low-income families and raises the revenue we need to fund education, health care, and other investments that will improve our economy and create opportunity for all Maine people.

  • Taxation Committee rejects Gov. LePage's unpaid-for proposal to eliminate income tax

    Measure would give huge breaks to the top 1 percent, while gutting education and raising property taxes

    By Ramona du Houx

     The Legislature’s Taxation Committee on Wednesday rejected a proposed Constitutional amendment from Governor Paul LePage to abolish the state’s income tax.

    Independent Rep. Gary Sukeforth of Appleton joined Democrats on the committee in opposing the $1.7 billion unpaid-for proposal.

    “Maine families balance their budgets every day and if they want something, they have to pay for it. Governor LePage and his Republican allies have not said where this $1.7 billion is going to come from,” said House Taxation Committee Chair Adam Goode, D-Bangor. “Voters are not getting the full story. It's reckless. Cutting every cent of K-12 funding would not cover the entire cost of eliminating the income tax. States that have tried this failed experiment have been forced to close schools early.”

    The income tax elimination would force cuts in K-12 and higher education, with the majority of the tax break going to those with incomes greater than $392,000.

    Maine spends close to $1.2 billion on K-12 and higher education and $750 million on health care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities.   Even if the governor cut all state funding for education and half the funding for health care, there still wouldn’t be enough money to cover the cost of eliminating Maine’s income tax.

    In WisconsinKansas, and Louisiana, unpaid for tax cuts for the wealthy have hurt the economy and led to crippling cuts to schools. 

    “The governor’s proposal to eliminate the income tax is more of a political sound bite than a credible proposal. As someone who has worked on bipartisan tax reform for as long as I’ve been in the Legislature, I can say with certainty, that no serious plan would include a gaping hole in our budget,” said Democratic State Senator Nate Libby of Lewiston, who serves on the state’s Taxation Committee. “His proposal would force irresponsible cuts to education and hurt our towns at a magnitude that even he can’t explain how it will be paid for.”

    "We applaud the committee's rejection of this reckless gimmick that would have put funding for schools and other vital services at risk. Repeal of the income tax would create a $1.7 billion hole in future budgets. We could eliminate all state funding for K-12 and higher education and still not realize the savings needed to pay for this fiscally irresponsible proposal. We would have to increase local property taxes by 40 percent to maintain current spending for schools," said the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) Executive Director Garrett Martin. 

    "Doubling the current sales tax rate still would not generate the revenue needed to balance the state's budget. It's time for legislators to get back to work on a bi-partisan budget that incorporates some of the best ideas from legislative Democrats' A Better Deal for Maine plan and the governor's original budget proposal. We urge them to deliver a budget that includes both responsible, fair tax reforms that benefit middle- and low-income families and raises the revenue we need to fund education, health care, and other investments that will improve our economy and create opportunity for all Maine people."

    The measure will now head to the House and Senate for a vote, where it will need support from two-thirds of the members in order to pass.

    Five reasons why eliminating Maine's income tax is "a bad idea":

    1. It's a huge giveaway to the wealthy. The top 1 percent of Mainers - 7,000 households with incomes greater than $392,000 - will get a $61,000 income tax cut on average  and account for 26 percent of the total amount. Meanwhile, middle-income Mainers - 140,000 households with incomes between $38,000 and $60,000 - will on average get a $900 income tax cut and account for less than 8 percent of the total. Of course, the $900 income tax cut for middle-income Mainers will quickly disappear in the face of property and sales tax increases required to pay for eliminating Maine's income tax. Instead of giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations, which eliminating Maine's income tax will do, we should focus on fiscally responsible policies that deliver more value to the middle class.

    2. It jeopardizes funding for schools and other vital servicesIn 2019, the current income tax is expected to generate more than $1.7 billion in revenue. That's money we will use to pay for schools, provide access to health care for seniors and people with disabilities, maintain public safety and critical infrastructure, and deliver other important services. Maine spends close to $1.2 billion on K-12 and higher education and $750 million on health care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Even if the governor cut all state funding for education and half the funding for health care, he still wouldn't have enough money to cover the cost of eliminating Maine's income tax. Rather than cut support for schools and other services, we should be calling on the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share.

    3. It will trigger property tax increases. Reduced funding at the state level for schools and local services merely shifts costs to property taxpayers. This has already begun to happen. For low- and middle-income Mainers, increasing property taxes is a much greater concern than what they pay in income taxes. In addition, relying more on property taxes to fund schools and local services is a recipe for increasing inequality between wealthier and poorer parts of the state.

    4. It will make an unfair tax system even less fairLow- and middle-income Mainers already pay more in state and local taxes per dollar earned than wealthy Mainers. Eliminating the income tax will worsen the situation, particularly as other taxes go up to make up for lost income tax revenue. In fact, states with the least fair tax systems in the country are those that don't have an income tax.

    5. It's a failed prescription for growing Maine's economy. Real-world results and the academic literature lend little support for personal income tax cuts as a strategy for boosting Maine's economy. Since Maine must balance its budget, the legislature must pay for tax cuts by cutting state services or raising other taxes. These actions will offset any benefits of the income tax cut and, even worse, may compromise Maine's future prospects for growth. We can't grow a strong economy when schools and workforce development programs are underfunded, vital communications and transportation infrastructure is absent or decaying, and lack of funding consistently undermines long-term efforts to improve health and protect the environment.
    In a follow-up blog post on May 6, 3 Unsavory Ways to Pay for Eliminating Maine's Income Tax," Martin outlined the options left for legislators to fund government services without the income tax:
    1. Eliminate all state funding for K-12 education and higher education and half of state funding on health care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities. In FY2014, Maine spent close to  $1.2 billion on K-12 and higher education and $750 million on health care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Eliminating funding for education and cutting health care funding in half would generate enough savings to cover the cost of eliminating Maine's income tax. If legislators don't want to do this, they could eliminate all state employees and all other departments and agencies funded through the general fund, including the departments of agriculture, attorney general, corrections, economic and community development, judiciary, and inland fisheries and wildlife. But doing so still wouldn't generate enough savings to cover the entire cost of eliminating Maine's income tax.
       
    2. Raise property taxes by 40%. If lawmakers chose to eliminate state funding for K-12 education property taxpayers would have to fund the entire cost of educating Maine children. At current funding levels that means property taxpayers would have to contribute close to $1 billion toward education. That roughly translates to a 40 percent property tax increase across the state. Of course, communities that are less well-off and currently benefit from a higher share of state aid will incur even more substantial property tax increases to pay for lost state aid.
       
    3. Raise the sales tax rate to 11.5 percent and the meals and lodging tax rate to 16 percent. Rather than eliminate entire departments in state government or shift education cost to property taxpayers, legislators could instead choose to increase the sales tax to offset the lost income tax revenue. Doing so would require them to more than double both our current 5.5 percent sales tax and our current 8 percent meals and lodging tax.

    There is more detailed MECEP analysis of Maine's current tax and budget deliberations available in the Tax and Budget section of our website, click here.

  • The Fairest Tax - editorial by Neil Rolde

                        By Neil Rolde

                      Maine’s bomb-throwing and wrecker governor, Paul LePage, has a new trick up his sleeve. He now proposes doing away with Maine’s state income tax. Installed in the late 1960s, this major source of State revenue [at least 50 percent of the budget] has provided an irreplaceable foundation of Maine’s economy for more than half a century.

                      What does the bully boy in the Blaine House offer to put in its place? Apparently nothing!

                      Cuts, of course, will have to be made in State services. LePage’s draconian knife no doubt will slash first and foremost at social programs helping the poor, from whose ranks he came but whose plight no longer touches him. Indeed, he seems annoyed by their continued presence. He rose above poverty. Why can’t they? And if they can’t, tant pis, which means “all the worse” for them in French.

                      Actually, doing away with the Maine state income tax has been tried before. Shortly after it was enacted, a “people’s veto” was attempted to nullify its going into law — a statewide referendum forced by petition to repeal what the Legislature had voted.

                      Currently supporters of LePage’s action are arguing that Maine people should have a chance to choose what LePage calls the "fairest tax." But "fairest" is not defined as based on ability to pay but a reversion to reliance on our two major regressive taxes — the sales tax and the property tax. Regressive, by the way, signifies a policy that hits the poor and middle classes — the vast bulk of Maine residents — the hardest. The less you have to pay with, the more you have to pay percentagewise.

                      As for a statewide referendum on this issue, we have been there, done that.

                      And an amazing thing happened back then. All the political pundits and especially the media were crowing that the income tax was doomed. Given the chance to vote on a tax, Mainers would surely get rid of it by an overwhelming margin.

                      Yet, when the votes closed and the ballots were counted, the result was astounding. Not only was the repeal measure defeated, it was crushed by a tally of 3-1, an incredible show of support for what was in fact the fairest tax.

                      In the interests of full disclosure, I was a charter member and spokesman for the anti-repeal organization called FAIR — Fight Against Income Tax Repeal. Our message was clear. If one of the three pillars of the state’s tax structure was removed, Maine would revert to the stagnant backward-looking economy it had suffered since the latter part of the 19th century.

                      Any attempts of necessity to increase the other two taxes — the sales tax and the property tax — to fill the holes left in the state budget were estimated; the cost hikes were breathtaking.

                      Yes, we know that underlying LePage’s lack of discussion of the consequences of his relentless attack on the state’s financial status quo, certain services now available will be ravaged or even totally curtailed. Social services, of course. What else? Education is a major expense but a necessity. Back to the property tax exclusively for that. The environment. Can we afford to despoil it? Tourism is a major industry in Maine. Will vistors flock to see devastated forests and endure polluted waters?

                      I have always admired the common sense and fairmindedness of Maine people.

                      Over the generations, they have generated a wonderful expression I love:

                      “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

                      When it comes to Governor LePages’s so-called fix, let’s just say No to his rush to make Maine into Mississippi.

  • Small business owners voice strong support for "Better Deal for Maine" budget plan

    Clockwise from the speaker: Joel Johnson, Maine Center for Economic Policy, Will Ikard, Maine Small Business Coalition,Jennie Pirkl, Maine People’s Alliance, Melanie Collins, Melanie’s Home Childcare, Falmouth, Bettyann Sheats, Finishing Touches Shower Doors, Auburn, Cathy Walsh, Arabica Coffee, Portland and Toby Alves, Union Bagel, Portland, at a roundtable discussion comparing LePage's proposed Budget with a Better Deal for Maine at Arabica Coffee in Portland on May 11. Courtesy photo.

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    On May 11, 2015, the Maine Small Business Coalition held a roundtable discussion in Portland with local small business owners, State Representative Denise Tepler (D-Topsham), and a budget analyst about Gov. LePage’s proposed state budget. 

    "There are two fundamental problems with the governor's tax reform plan. First, it doesn't adequately target tax cuts to low- and moderate-income Mainers. Second, it would force cuts to education, health care, and other critical services important to Maine people and businesses," said budget analyst Joel Johnson of Maine Center for Economic Policy. "The bottom line is that the “Better Deal” helps create a more fair tax system that ensures proper funding for education, healthcare, and other critical services important to all Maine people and businesses."

    The “Better Deal” proposal prioritizes investment in communities and local economies helping main street businesses. Under the leadership of Gov. Angus King and Gov. John Baldacci it was understood how important basic investments to infrastructure, education, healthcare and public safety were as measures everyone needed to live in Maine. In addition, Maine’s downtown creative economies have been improving the quality of life for all residents ever since Baldacci administration policies, working with lawmakers and small businesses, led to voter-approved bonds helping main streets. 

    "My business depends on state and local investment in public safety, transportation, and education. I rely on local police and fire to keep my business safe, well-maintained roads so my customers can get here, and public education to provide the best possible workforce. I hope legislators will trust small business owners and pass the Better Deal, which would fully fund these priorities,” said Cathy Walsh, owner of Portland's Arabica Coffee.

    Other small business owners also voiced strong support for the "Better Deal for Maine" plan at the meeting. 

    "When Maine families have a little more money, they spend it locally at my store and others like mine. When the super-rich get a tax cut, they invest in their Wall Street portfolios. State government should be focused on getting money into the hands of my customers," said Toby Alves, co-owner of Union Bagel in Portland.

    According to an analysis from the national non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Maine Center on Economic Policy, the “Better Deal” for Maine would cut taxes, on average, for the bottom 95 percent of Maine taxpayers. It would provide a larger tax break than the Governor’s plan, on average, for the bottom 80 percent of Maine taxpayers.

    The “Better Deal for Maine” highlights:

    1. Puts more money in the pockets of Maine families: Lowers property taxes by $120 million annually for Maine residents by doubling the Homestead Exemption for all Maine homeowners and by increasing the Property Tax Fairness Credit by more than $57 million per year.
    2. Invests in Maine's future: Bolsters investment in Maine students, workers and seniors. Increases funding for K-12 education by $20 million per year.
    3. Prevents property tax hikes: Increases revenue sharing to $80 million each year for local services like police, fire, and public works, while rejecting the Governor’s new taxes on non-profits.
    4. Targets income tax cuts for the middle class: Cuts income taxes by hundreds of dollars for the vast majority of Maine families while asking the wealthiest 5 percent to pay their fair share. Under the Better Deal for Maine, 98 percent of income tax cuts go to the bottom 95 percent of taxpayers. Under the Governor’s plan, 50 percent of the tax break goes to the top 10 percent.
    5. Is fiscally responsible: Unlike the Governor’s budget, the Better Deal for Maine is fully paid for now and into the future.

     

     "It was great to have this opportunity to meet with the real drivers of Maine's economy - small business owners - and hear their concerns about tax and budget policy," said Rep. Tepler, who sits on the Taxation Committee. "It is my responsibility as a legislator to support policy that helps Maine's communities and that's why I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting the Better Deal plan."  

  • Maine GOP agenda = Raid state budget to line pockets of the wealthy

    Maine Republican lawmakers back Gov. Paul LePage to eliminate the state income tax, which would cut state revenue by half or nearly $1.7 billion and devistate working families.

    “The Governor has lost touch with reality if he thinks he can completely eliminate the state income tax without a way to pay for it," said  Maine Democratic Party (MDP) Chairman Phil Bartlett. "The GOP’s proposal will line the pockets of the wealthy, while forcing massive cuts to public education, infrastructure, and public safety. Even worse, low to middle income Mainers will bear the brunt of property tax increases and our economy will have nothing to show for it.”

    Maine GOP leaders have offered no plans on how to cover the loss of $1.7 billion in annual revenue for the state, which will likely be shouldered on the backs of middle-to-low income taxpayers in the form of higher property taxes, or force massive cuts to funding for public education, roads and public safety.

     "Repeal of the income tax will tear a $1.7 billion hole in future budgets. Eliminating all state funding for K-12 and higher education still wouldn't generate enough savings to pay for this reckless proposal and doing so would necessitate a 40 percent increase in property taxes to maintain current spending for schools. Alternately, legislators could double our current sales tax rate and still not generate enough revenue to balance the state's budget," said MECEP Executive Director Garrett Martin.

     "This proposal is nothing more than a reckless gimmick that the legislature should quickly defeat so that they can get back to the task at hand - working in a bi-partisan manner to craft a two year budget that incorporates some of the best ideas from the A Better Deal for Maine plan and the governor's original budget proposal." 

    The Maine GOP claims that eliminating the income tax will make Maine more competitive, drive growth and is our best shot at keeping kids in Maine. However, experts, economists and everyday Mainers strongly dissagree:

     

    • According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP),individuals and businesses in states without an income tax pay more in property and sales taxes than people in other states, on average. No-income-tax states have property taxes that are 8 percent to 12 percent above the national average and sales taxes 18 percent to 21 percent above the national average.

    • A Mainer and former business owner penned this piece “Eliminating the state income tax won’t mean economic growth,” stating: The income tax is the most fair and efficient tax system. Give me a reason to support eliminating it, because it looks to me like another Republican Party method to further enrich the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

    • A Mainer who returned home to start a new business offered this advice to the GOP:We need to sweeten the deal for the young professionals and young families we sorely need. We can do it by helping on the most pressing issues facing my generation: health insurance, student loans and housing. This would be a key, short-term investment that would pay dividends for decades.

    Maine Democrats are focused on ‘middle class economics’ and a comprehensive tax relief plan that will build our economy from the middle out. The Democrats’ Better Deal for Maine prioritizes tax cuts for the middle class, lowers property taxes for all Maine homeowners and invests in our schools, workers and communities.

    “While Republicans want to put funding for our kids, teachers and schools on the chopping block to give tax breaks to the ultra-rich, Maine Democrats are focused on a fair tax relief plan to boost the middle class. We know that when we invest in our students, workers and better jobs, our economy will grow in a way that benefits everyone," said Bartlett. 

    According to anew analysis from the national non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Maine Center on Economic Policy, the Better Deal for Maine plan would cut taxes, on average, for the bottom 95 percent of Maine taxpayers. It would provide a larger tax break than the Governor’s plan, on average, for the bottom 80 percent of Maine taxpayers.

  • Eliminating Maine's Income Tax: A Boon to Wealthy Mainers, Will Hurt Everyone Else

     

    May 4, 2015 by Garrett Martin

    Two weeks ago Governor LePage notified lawmakers of his intention to amend Maine's constitution to eliminate the state's income tax by 2020. This may mean the governor has thrown in the towel on his budget proposal that significantly reduces Maine's income tax and pays for it by increasing sales and property taxes. The response to the governor's original tax plan among members of his own party has been tepid at best, and now that Democratic lawmakers have stolen some of the governor's thunder with their A Better Deal for Maine plan, he seems eager to reclaim center stage with this latest gimmick which members of the legislature's joint committee on taxation will hold public hearings on tomorrow.

    Eliminating Maine's income tax is a bad idea. Here are my top 5 reasons why:

    1. It's a huge giveaway to the wealthy. The top 1% of Mainers - 7,000 households with incomes greater than $392,000 - will get a $61,000 income tax cut on average and account for 26% of the total amount. Meanwhile, middle-income Mainers - 140,000 households with incomes between $38,000 and $60,000 - will get a $900 income tax cut on average and account for less than 8% of the total. Of course, the $900 income tax cut for middle-income Mainers will quickly disappear in the face of property and sales tax increases required to pay for eliminating Maine's income tax. Instead of giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations which eliminating Maine's income tax will do, we should focus on fiscally responsible policies that deliver more value to the middle class.
    2. It jeopardizes funding for schools and other vital services. In 2019, the  current income tax is expected to generate more than $1.6 billion in revenue. That's money we will use to pay for schools, provide access to health care for seniors and people with disabilities, maintain public safety and critical infrastructure, and deliver other important services. Maine spends close to $1.2 billion on K-12 and higher education and $750 million on health care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Even if the governor cut all state funding for education and half the funding for health care, he still wouldn't have enough money to cover the cost of eliminating Maine's income tax. Rather than cut support for schools and other services, we should be calling on the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share.
    3. It will trigger property tax increases. Reduced funding at the state level for schools and local services merely shifts costs to property taxpayers. This has already begun to happen. For low- and middle-income Mainers, increasing property taxes is a much greater concern than what they pay in income taxes. In addition, relying more on property taxes to fund schools and local services is a recipe for increasing inequality between wealthier and poorer parts of the state.
    4. It will make an unfair tax system even less fair. Low- and middle-income Mainers already pay more in state and local taxes per dollar earned than wealthy Mainers. Eliminating the income tax will worsen the situation, particularly as other taxes go up to make up for lost income tax revenue. In fact, states with the least fair tax systems in the country are those that don't have an income tax.
    5. It's a failed prescription for growing Maine's economy. Real-world results and the academic literature lend little support for personal income tax cuts as a strategy for boosting Maine's economy. Since Maine must balance its budget, the legislature must pay for tax cuts by cutting state services or raising other taxes. These actions will offset any benefits of the income tax cut and, even worse, may compromise Maine's future prospects for growth. We can't grow a strong economy when schools and workforce development programs are underfunded, vital communications and transportation infrastructure is absent or decaying, and lack of funding consistently undermines long-term efforts to improve health and protect the environment.

    If the governor were serious about eliminating Maine's income tax by 2020, he could have put forth a proposal to do so with his budget plan. The fact that he didn't speaks to the challenges and trade-offs that would be necessary in order to do away with the biggest source of revenue in Maine's tax system. 

     Governor LePage's latest proposal to enact a constitutional amendment to eliminate Maine's income tax seems little more than a gimmick that will provide good fodder for future campaigns, but offers little substance in promoting real solutions for hard working Mainers.

  • A Better Deal for Maine comes down to lowering property taxes - strong public backing in Scarborough

    By Ramona du Houx

    Scarborough-area residents and community leaders showed strong support for Democrats’ Better Deal for Maine tax reform plan tonight during the second town hall meeting on the proposal.

    Nearly 150 people attended the town hall at Camp Ketcha to learn more about the proposal, which cuts taxes for the middle class, lowers property taxes for all Maine homeowners and invests in Maine schools, workers and communities.

    “We heard strong support for our plan tonight from everyday Mainers who share our concerns about the Governor’s proposal. Our economy lags behind the nation and our tax system is rigged for those at the very top.  Governor LePage has proposed a budget that will make it worse. Our plan will make it better,” said Speaker Eves. “A Better Deal for Maine grows the economy from the middle out. We reject the trickle-down economics that will only widen the gap between the rich and the poor in our state.”

    It could be said the difference in Governor LePage's tax plan and the Democrats proposal boils down to this: LePage's policies will increase everyone's property taxes while the Democrats proposal will decrease property taxes across the board.

    Speaker Eves and Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond announced the Better Deal for Maine plan to counter Governor Paul LePage’s budget. According to a new analysis from the national non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Maine Center on Economic Policy, the Better Deal for Maine would cut taxes, on average, for the bottom 95 percent of Maine taxpayers. It would provide a larger tax break than the Governor’s plan, on average, for the bottom 80 percent of Maine taxpayers.

    “Mainers want a better deal for themselves, a better deal for their communities and a better deal for the economy,” said Senator Alfond, D-Portland. “Our plan ensures more Mainers can keep more of their hard-earned money. It decreases the tax burden on Maine’s working and middle-income earners while asking the wealthy, corporations, and out-of-staters to pay their share.”

    The Better Deal for Maine:

     

    • Puts more money in the pockets of Maine families: Lowers property taxes by $120 million annually for Maine residents by doubling the Homestead Exemption for all Maine homeowners and by increasing the Property Tax Fairness Credit by more than $57 million per year.

    • Invests in Maine's future: Bolsters investment in Maine students, workers and seniors. Increases funding for K-12 education by $20 million per year.

    • Prevents property tax hikes: Increases revenue sharing to $80 million each year for local services like police, fire, and public works, while rejecting the Governor’s new taxes on non-profits.

    • Targets income tax cuts for the middle class: Cuts income taxes by hundreds of dollars for the vast majority of Maine families while asking the wealthiest 5 percent to pay their fair share. Under the Better Deal for Maine, 98 percent of income tax cuts go to the bottom 95 percent of taxpayers. Under the Governor’s plan, 50 percent of the tax break goes to the top 10 percent.

    • Is fiscally responsible: Unlike the Governor’s budget, the Better Deal for Maine is fully paid for now and into the future.

     

    Democratic leaders held their first town hall meeting on the Better Deal for Maine last Wednesday in Bangor with more than 100 people and held a tele-town hall on Thursday with more than 7,000 participants.

     

    ###

    LOCAL AREA SPECIFIC NUMBERS FOR REV SHARING & EDUCATION

     

    Scarborough

     

    • Under the Better Deal, Scarborough will see a 16 percent increase in funding for local schools compared with the Governor’s budget.Under Better Deal,  Scarborough schools get $616,971 more for GPA.  

    • The Governor also plans to eliminate Revenue Sharing, another hit to property taxpayers. Getting rid of Revenue Sharing is a $977,200 million hit to the city of Scarborough

    • Under the Better Deal, the city of Scarborough gets nearly $1 million  more funding for local fire, police and public works

     

    Portland

     

    • Under the Better Deal, Portland will see a 8.8 percent increase in funding for local schools compared with the Governor’s budget. Under Better Deal, Portland schools get $1,322,575 more for GPA

    • The Governor also plans to eliminate Revenue Sharing, another hit to property taxpayers. Getting rid of Revenue Sharing is a $5,078,430 million hit to the city of Portland

    • Under the Better Deal,  the city of Portland gets nearly $5,078,430 more funding for local fire, police and public works

     

    South Portland

     

    • Under the Better Deal,  South Portland will see an increase of 11.9 percent in funding for local schools compared with the Governor’s budget. Under Better Deal,  South Portland schools get $616,491 more for GPA.

    • The Governor also plans to eliminate Revenue Sharing, another hit to property taxpayers. Getting rid of Revenue Sharing is a $1,587,900 million hit to the city of South Portland

    • Under the Better Deal,  the city of South Portland  gets nearly $1,587,900 more funding for local fire, police and public works

     

    Cape Elizabeth

     

    • Under the Better Deal, Cape Elizabeth will see a 9.9 increase in funding for local schools compared with the Governor’s budget. Under Better Deal,  Cape Elizabeth schools get $295,244 more for GPA.

    • The Governor also plans to eliminate Revenue Sharing, another hit to property taxpayers. Getting rid of Revenue Sharing is a $553,191 million hit to the city of Cape Elizabeth

    • Under the Better Deal,  the city of Cape Elizabeth  gets nearly $553,191 more funding for local fire, police and public works

     

    Gorham

     

    • Under the Better Deal, Gorham will see an increase of 1.4 percent in funding for local schools compared with the Governor’s budget.Under Better Deal,  Gorham schools get $248,416 more for GPA.

    • The Governor also plans to eliminate Revenue Sharing, another hit to property taxpayers. Getting rid of Revenue Sharing is a $920,951 million hit to the city of Gorham

    • Under the Better Deal, the city of Gorham gets nearly $920,951 more funding for local fire, police and public works

     

    Westbrook

     

    • Under the Better Deal, Westbrook will see a 2.2 percent increase in funding for local schools compared with the Governor’s budget.Under Better Deal, Westbrook schools get $317,390 more for GPA.  

    • The Governor also plans to eliminate Revenue Sharing, another hit to property taxpayers. Getting rid of Revenue Sharing is a $2.3 million hit to the city of Westbrook

    • Under the Better Deal, the city of Westbrook gets nearly $1.2 million more funding for local fire, police and public works.

  • Dems "Better Deal for Maine" gets strong public backing at Bangor town hall

    Downtown Bangor, Maine, photo by Ramona du Houx

    by Ramona du Houx

    Bangor-area residents and community leaders showed strong support for Democrats’ Better Deal for Maine tax reform plan tonight during the first town hall meeting on the proposal in Bangor.

    More than 100 people attended the town hall to learn more about the proposal, which cuts taxes for the middle class, lowers property taxes for all Maine homeowners and invests in Maine schools, workers and communities.

    “We heard strong support for our plan tonight from everyday Mainers who share our concerns about the Governor’s proposal. Our economy lags behind the nation and our tax system is rigged for those at the very top.  Governor LePage has proposed a budget that will make it worse. Our plan will make it better,” said Speaker Eves. “A Better Deal for Maine grows the economy from the middle out. We reject the trickle-down economics that will only widen the gap between the rich and the poor in our state.”

    Speaker Eves and Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond announced the Better Deal for Maine plan to counter Governor Paul LePage’s budget. According to a new analysis from the national non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Maine Center on Economic Policy, the Better Deal for Maine would cut taxes, on average, for the bottom 95 percent of Maine taxpayers. It would provide a larger tax break than the Governor’s plan, on average, for the bottom 80 percent of Maine taxpayers.

    “Mainers want a better deal for themselves, a better deal for their communities and a better deal for the economy,” said Senator Alfond. “Our plan ensures more Mainers can keep more of their hard-earned money. It decreases the tax burden on Maine’s working and middle-income earners while asking the wealthy, corporations, and out-of-staters to pay their share.”

    The Better Deal for Maine:

    • Puts more money in the pockets of Maine families: Lowers property taxes by $120 million annually for Maine residents by doubling the Homestead Exemption for all Maine homeowners and by increasing the Property Tax Fairness Credit by more than $57 million per year.

    • Invests in Maine's future: Bolsters investment in Maine students, workers and seniors. Increases funding for K-12 education by $20 million per year.

    • Prevents property tax hikes: Increases revenue sharing to $80 million each year for local services like police, fire, and public works, while rejecting the Governor’s new taxes on non-profits.

    • Targets income tax cuts for the middle class: Cuts income taxes by hundreds of dollars for the vast majority of Maine families while asking the wealthiest 5 percent to pay their fair share. Under the Better Deal for Maine, 98 percent of income tax cuts go to the bottom 95 percent of taxpayers. Under the Governor’s plan, 50 percent of the tax break goes to the top 10 percent.

    • Is fiscally responsible: Unlike the Governor’s budget, the Better Deal for Maine is fully paid for now and into the future.

    The legislative leaders were joined by members of the local-area delegation, including State Senators Geoff Gratwick and Jim Dill as well as State Representatives Adam Goode, Victoria Kornfield, Aaron Frey, John Schneck and Arthur “Archie” Verow.

    “The Better Deal is a great deal. It lowers taxes for working Mainers and the middle class, not just the wealthy,”  said Democratic State Senator Geoff Gratwick of Bangor. “We will once again be investing in our schools, public safety and infrastructure. It is paid for and fiscally responsible. I passionately believe that we need to be investing in programs that strengthen our communities, not just the affluent.  The Better Deal marks the return of common sense.”

    Governor LePage’s proposal will leave a $300 million hole in the state’s budget starting in 2018. With education funding making up 35 percent of the state budget, there will be no choice but to force cuts to schools. Elsewhere in the United States, in states like Kansas and Louisiana, these kind of top-down economic policies have resulted in fiscal crisis and deep cuts to schools.

    “The Governor’s plan should be a wake up call to every parent of a school aged child in our state,” said Rep. Tori Kornfield, a former school teacher and House chair of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. “It will cripple our ability to invest in our students and schools now and in the future. Gutting our children’s education is bad for their future and our economy.”

    Democratic leaders will hold a second town hall next week in Scarborough.

  • Democartic Tax Deal for Maine is fiscally sound, politically sophisticated and true to core values

    Since Gov. LePage’s first election, Maine Democrats have been throwing from their back foot, unable to out-message or out-maneuver the governor and championing policies that failed to resonate with Maine’s working-class voters.

    After last November’s elections, I noted, “You cannot look at the electoral map without concluding that working-class voters lost faith with Democrats up and down the state, relegating them to the party of Greater Portland, the gold coast and a smattering of inland communities.”

    But last Thursday the Democrats finally found their footing and powerfully re-inserted themselves into this Legislature’s pre-eminent policy debate – tax reform – by offering their aptly named Better Deal for Maine.

    I’ve written favorably about the governor’s tax reform proposal in the past, noting, among other things, that it initiated an earnest and overdue dialogue about wholesale tax reform and modernization. I’ve also critiqued its reliance on sales and, more importantly, property tax increases and the $300 million hole it blows in the state budget when fully implemented.

    Democrats and progressive groups also correctly observed that the bulk of the governor’s tax relief was directed toward the wealthiest among us, providing more than $10,000 in relief to those earning $400,000 a year, compared with $145 for Mainers earning $40,000.

    Yes, the governor admirably proposes to eliminate income taxes for a family of four making less than $48,000 per year, but we can all agree that remaining swath of Maine’s middle income families – many of whom struggle daily to make ends meet – are more desperately in need of a tax cut than the top 1 percent.

    The Democrats’ plan delivers 98 percent of tax relief to the bottom 95 percent of Maine families while putting more money in their pockets than the governor’s deal does. The Better Deal for Maine is also balanced, neither leaving a multimillion-dollar budget hole for future Legislatures nor necessitating massive cuts to education and social service programs in the out years.

    What’s more, the Democrats’ proposal isn’t just smart policy – it’s also smart politics. The gap between rich and poor has grown at a faster rate in the United States than in any other developed country, with the top 1 percent capturing 95 percent of post-recession growth (since 2009), while 90 percent of Americans became poorer.

    This issue of income inequality is now such a potent, bipartisan political issue that Republican presidential contenders – from Jeb Bush to Ted Cruz – are deploying populist economic rhetoric nearly identical to that of President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

    So Republican legislators must decide not only whether they’ll move a significant piece of tax reform legislation, but also if they’ll prioritize the economic interests of the vast majority of their lower- and middle-class constituents. Given the populist economic messages and policies likely to dominate the 2016 contests, the electoral consequences of that decision could be immense.

    The Democrats also shrewdly incorporated – and in some cases improved upon – several of the best elements of the governor’s plan, including the elimination of the sales tax exemption on services, the creation a refundable sales tax credit for low-income filers and doubling the homestead exemption for all resident homeowners, rather than simply seniors as LePage proposed.

    The Democrats also understood that it’s property taxes, not income taxes, that low- and middle-income Mainers feel most acutely. Under LePage’s plan, municipalities would lose $250 million in revenue sharing over two years, while also absorbing more education costs. Rather than relying on local taxpayers to make up that difference in higher property taxes, the Democrats’ plan actually increases municipal revenue sharing and provides $20 million more in school aid.

    But the most politically cunning element of the Better Deal is Democrats’ rejection of the governor’s plan to raise the sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent. Raising sales taxes – or any taxes, for that matter – is an anathema to legislative Republicans. And now it’s LePage, not Democrats, calling for its increase.

    Yes, the Democrats’ plan increases revenue in 2016 by $100 million (compared to LePage’s $44 million), but they smartly left that money unappropriated and on the bargaining table. That leaves a lot of cushion for striking deals and potentially directing those funds toward Republican priorities.

    With two plans now on the table, the Legislature is within striking distance of a historic, bipartisan tax reform deal. Whether they’re clever enough to compromise and seize the day is yet to be determined. For his part, the governor will almost certainly try to undermine them at every turn.

    The Better Deal for Maine is fiscally sound and politically sophisticated. It’s also true to Democrats’ core values of protecting the most vulnerable and increasing economic opportunities for the middle class. With it, Democrats are finally back in the game.

    Michael Cuzzi manages the Boston and Portland offices of VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. 

  • Democratic lawmakers to hold Town Hall on the Better Deal for Maine

     Bangor area residents and community leaders will have a chance to weigh-in on a new tax reform plan announced by top Democratic leaders in the State Legislature.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond will hold the first town hall meeting on the Better Deal for Maine plan in Bangor, from 6-7:30 p.m. on April 22, at the Hammond Street Congregational Church (28 High Street). They will be joined by members of the local-area legislative delegation, including State Senators Geoff Gratwick and Jim Dill as well as State Representatives Adam Goode, Victoria Kornfield, Aaron Frey, John Schneck and Arthur “Archie” Verow. 

    “Maine is at a crossroads. Our economy lags behind the nation and our tax system is rigged for those at the very top.  Gov. LePage has proposed a budget that will make it worse. Our plan will make it better,” said Speaker Eves, D-North Berwick. “A Better Deal for Maine grows the economy from the middle out. It rejects the trickle-down economics that have failed us time and time again.”

    The leaders announced the Better Deal for Maine plan to counter Gov. Paul LePage’s budget. It cuts taxes for the middle class, lowers property taxes for all Maine homeowners and invests in Maine schools, workers and communities.

    “Mainers want a better deal for themselves, a better deal for their communities and a better deal for the economy,” said Senator Alfond, D-Portland. “Our plan ensures more Mainers can keep more of their hard-earned money. It decreases the tax burden on Maine’s working and middle-income earners while asking the wealthy, corporations, and out-of-staters to pay their share.”

    According to a new analysis from the national non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Maine Center on Economic Policy, the Better Deal for Maine plan would cut taxes, on average, for the bottom 95 percent of Maine taxpayers. It would provide a larger tax break than the Governor’s plan, on average, for the bottom 80 percent of Maine taxpayers.

     

    The Better Deal for Maine:

    • Puts more money in the pockets of Maine families: Cuts property taxes by $120 million annually for Maine residents by doubling the Homestead Exemption for all Maine homeowners and by increasing the Property Tax Fairness Credit by more than $57 million per year.

    • Invests in Maine's future: Bolsters investment in Maine students, workers and seniors. Increases funding for K-12 education by $20 million per year.

    • Prevents property tax hikes: Increases revenue sharing to $80 million each year for local services like police, fire, and public works, while rejecting the governor’s new taxes on non-profits.

    • Targets income tax cuts for the middle class: Cuts income taxes by hundreds of dollars for the vast majority of Maine families while asking the wealthiest 5 percent to pay their fair share. Under the Better Deal for Maine, 98 percent of income tax cuts go to the bottom 95 percent of taxpayers. Under the Governor’s plan, 50 percent of the tax break goes to the top 10 percent.

    • Is fiscally responsible: Unlike the Governor’s budget, the Better Deal for Maine is fully paid for now and into the future. Gov. LePage’s proposal will leave a $300 million hole in the state’s budget starting in 2018.

    Democratic leaders will hold a second town hall next week in Scarborough.

  • Former governor Curtis explains why Mainers chose an income tax

    By Former Maine Governor Ken Curtis- this first appeared in Portland Press Herald

    Now that repeal of the Maine income tax is being proposed, it might be timely to revisit its history.

    In 1969, Maine was facing an almost insurmountable revenue shortfall. As governor, I introduced an income tax as the best solution we could offer. Of all taxes, the income tax was advocated because it was progressive, fair and, most importantly, based on ability to pay.

    The successful legislation was bipartisan, supported by a Democratic governor, a majority Republican Legislature and drafted by a Republican legislative leader, who offered an improved bill.

    Maine people concurred by supporting an initiative referendum to retain this new tax by more than a 3-to-1 majority: 190,229 to 63,403. Maine’s tradition for caring people was at its best when many of its wealthiest gave their support.

    As a result, essential services were preserved and expanded, as well as subsequently reducing the property tax. Forty-five years ago, we realized that raising and expanding all other taxes would not equal revenues generated by the income tax.

    While I have no interest in entering into a dialogue with the current governor, Maine people are welcome to compare the record and conduct of my administration with his at any time.

    Kenneth M. Curtis

    former governor of Maine

    Sarasota, Florida

  • Eves warns LePage cuts that give tax breaks to the wealthy will hurt Maine schools

    State House in Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx 

     House Speaker Mark Eves is sounding the alarm about the impact of Governor Paul LePage’s budget on school funding and calling for lawmakers to support the Better Deal for Maine plan.

    In addition to bolstering funding for Maine students and public education by $20 million per year, the Better Deal for Maine increases property tax relief for Maine families by $120 million and gives a bigger tax cut to middle and low income families than the Governor’s plan.

    In contrast, Governor LePage’s budget provides 50 percent of the tax cut to the top 10 percent of taxpayers, while leaving a $300 million hole in the budget.  A new analysis of the Governor’s plan in the Bangor Daily News shows that Maine schools will see their budgets cut in half by 2019 if the LePage budget passes.

    In a press conference yesterday, Governor LePage conceded the point:

    “I think there’s a quarter of a billion dollars being wasted in K-12 education alone,” LePage said, according to the Bangor Daily News.  

    Speaker Eves said the Governor’s statement and his budget should be a call to action for parents, students, teachers, and Maine businesses that rely on an educated and skilled workforce.

    “As a father of three young children in our school system, I am extremely worried about the Governor’s plan to gut our schools,” said Eves. “This should be a call to action for every parent in our state.  If you care about the future of our state and our children, pay attention. This is the other half of the story that LePage and his Republican allies don’t want you to know:  Tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations are bankrupting states and crippling education investment across the country.”

    Eves added, “Republican governors across the country have promised that deep income tax cuts, as part of ideologically driven economic programs, would result in strong economic growth and job creation. Yet the policies have not worked. The results are just the opposite -- huge budget holes and cuts to education.”

    In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback pushed a similar tax plan through a few years ago and this year, he just announced $44 million cut to K-12 and public universities. In fact some schools in Kansas will be forced to close early because of the funding shortfall.

    Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal similarly forced through huge cuts that were supposed to lead to a booming economy.  However, Louisiana is $1.6 billion in debt and has cut education more than any other state in the country.

    “Governor LePage's plan takes Maine in the wrong direction, and puts us on a path to becoming the next Kansas or Louisiana,” said Eves. “It’s bad news for Maine children, workers and families. That’s why Democrats are fighting for A Better Deal for Maine.”

    Democratic leaders will be holding town hall meetings on the Better Deal for Maine in the coming weeks.

  • Non-Partisan National Tax Institute says Democratic tax plan better for middle-class

    The Better Deal for Maine Democratic tax plan would provide a larger tax break than the LePage plan, on average, for the bottom 80 percent of Maine taxpayers. Photo of the Capitol by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    On Tax Day, a new analysis from a non-partisan, national tax institute shows the Better Deal for Maine beats Governor Paul LePage’s budget when it comes to lowering the overall tax burden for the vast majority of taxpayers. 

    According to the analysis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Maine Center on Economic Policy (MECEP), the Better Deal for Maine plan would cut taxes, on average, for the bottom 95 percent of Maine taxpayers. It would provide a larger tax break than the Governor’s plan, on average, for the bottom 80 percent of Maine taxpayers.

    ITEP is an independent, non-partisan research organization that works on federal, state, and local tax policy issues. ITEP's mission is to ensure that elected officials, the media, and the general public have access to accurate, timely, and straightforward information that allows them to understand the effects of current and proposed tax policies.

    The table above shows that Mainers with incomes between $36,000 - $57,000 will get a total tax cut on average of $191 under the Better Deal plan compared to an average tax cut of $24 under Gov. LePage's plan. 

    “The analysis from the national, nonpartisan tax experts underscores what a better deal our plan is for middle class working families in our state,” said House Speaker Eves. “The Better Deal for Maine puts more money in the pockets of working families and invests in our economic future. The Governor’s plan gives most of the benefit to the very wealthy and leaves a $300 million hole in the state budget, cutting school funding in half in the next four years. Maine’s tax system is rigged for those at the very top. The Governor’s plan makes it worse. Our plan makes it better.”

    Governor LePage’s plan gives the largest tax cuts to Maine’s wealthiest residents. It gives 50 percent of income tax cuts to the top 10 percent. Under the Better Deal for Maine, 98 percent of income tax relief goes to the bottom 95 percent.

    “Today’s analysis by this well-respected, nonpartisan group confirms that across the board, the Better Deal plan beats the LePage plan in middle class economics,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland. “Our plan ensures more Mainers can keep more of their hard-earned money. It decreases the tax burden on Maine’s working and middle-income earners while asking the wealthy, corporations, and out-of-staters to pay their share.”

    The distributional analysis shows that middle and low income families will see a greater overall tax benefit under the Better Deal for Maine compared with the Governor’s plan:

     

    • Under the Better Deal for Maine, individuals with an average income of $47,000 will see an average tax cut of $191, compared to the LePage plan where they will see an overall average tax cut of $24.
    • Under the Better Deal for Maine, individuals with an average income of $72,000 will see an average cut of $169, compared to the LePage plan where they will see an overall average tax cut of $93.
    • Under the Better Deal for Maine, individuals with an average income of $29,000 will see an average tax cut of $195, compared to the LePage plan where they will see an average tax increase of $4.
    • Under the Better Deal for Maine, individuals with an average income of $838,000 will pay, on average, $3,582 more, compared to the LePage plan where they will see an overall average tax cut of $7,546.

      

    Last week, Democratic leaders unveiled the Better Deal for Maine, which prioritizes tax cuts for the middle class, lowers property taxes for all Maine homeowners and invests in Maine schools, workers and communities by asking the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share. It grows the economy from the middle out, not the top down.

    Even a Bangor Daily News editorial said the Democratic tax plan was better for Maine.

  • Proposed law for property tax fairness credit in Maine gets boost

    By Ramona du Houx

    A proposed law to help defray the rising costs of property taxes received strong public support during a hearing in the state’s Taxation Committee.

    “I’ve heard from thousands of Lewiston residents over the last year who are concerned with rising property taxes,” said Democratic Senator Nate Libby of Lewiston, the sponsor of the bill. “While this bill surely cannot cure the underlying and growing crisis property taxpayers and their local governments face, it can make a difference to low-income homeowners and renters, and those on fixed incomes, who can desperately use this relief."

    The measure, LD 76 , “An Act to Amend the Property Tax Fairness Credit,” raises the maximum credit amount by $300--up to $900 for people under the age of 65 and up to $1,200 for a people over 65.

    Under the current Property Tax Fairness Credit, eligible Maine taxpayers may receive a portion of their property tax or rent paid during the tax year on their Maine individual income tax return. The credit is targeted to help families with the least ability to pay their property tax and rent bills.

    Additionally, through an amendment, the measure corrects the calculation in eligibility changes that occurred when the Circuit Breaker program was replaced by the Property Tax Fairness credit.  Sen. Libby’s bill would return the percentage of income paid on property taxes from 10 percent under the current PFTC to 4 percent as it was under the Circuit Breaker program; and, for renters, from 15 percent under the PFTC to 20 percent returning it to the same eligibility criteria as it was under the Circuit Breaker program.

    The Taxation Committee will schedule a work session on the measure in the coming weeks.

  • Proposed law to end offshore tax haven abuse advances in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    A proposed law to prevent multinational corporations from evading Maine taxes by hiding profits in offshore tax havens is advancing in the Legislature after earning support from the Taxation Committee on April 8th.

    LD 341, An Act To Prevent Tax Haven Abuse, moves forward following a 5-4 party line vote of the committee members present.

    “The accounting gimmicks used by these multinational corporations are shorting Maine an estimated $10 million each budget cycle,” said Rep. Ryan Tipping-Spitz, D-Orono, the bill’s sponsor. “These huge corporations make use of Maine’s infrastructure, public services and workforce but avoid paying their fair share. Their practices stick local Maine families and small businesses with the tab.”

    Maine loses $10 million in each two-year budget period, according to an estimate made by the non-partisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review with help from Maine Revenue Services. This revenue could be used for priorities such as revenue sharing, increased property tax fairness credits and investments in education and the workforce.

    Under Tipping-Spitz’s bill, corporations would have to report income from a list of known offshore tax havens, including Liechtenstein, Bahrain, Luxembourg and Monaco.

    He noted that five states and the District of Columbia already have adopted practices like those in LD 341.

    Maine already has domestic tax evasion checks in place to prevent corporations from hiding money in states like Delaware and Nevada.

    “Let’s do the right thing for Maine businesses and taxpayers,” said Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, the House chair of the Taxation Committee. “We need to close these tax code loopholes and stop this tax dodging that puts our small businesses at a competitive disadvantage.” 

    States lose an estimated $20 billion annually because of corporate use of offshore tax havens. It’s up to the states themselves to close these loopholes.

     

  • Stephen King still waits for an apology from LePage after the Maine governor lied about him

    Novelist Stephen King is still on his quest to obtain an apology from Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

    King said Gov. Paul LePage should "Man up and apologize" after his inaccurate claim that when the author has moved away he stopped paying Maine income taxes.

    LePage used his radio address last week to make try and convince people that it would be good for Maine to eliminate the states' income tax. LePage is trying to get his budget passed that gives the top 1 percent a huge tax break on the backs of Maine's middle class, whose property taxes could skyrocket under the LePage plan.

    LePage said states without an income tax, such as Florida, have lured away Maine residents, including King.

    But King proudly lives in Maine and only winters in Florida. King's permanent residence is in Bangor, where he says he pays taxes.

    "Governor LePage is full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green. Tabby and I pay every cent of our Maine state income taxes, and are glad to do it. We feel, as Governor LePage apparently does not, that much is owed from those to whom much has been given. We see our taxes as a way of paying back the state that has given us so much," wrote King in a statement.

    LePage has yet to do the decent thing and apologize. So, the author tweeted Sunday morning that "some guys are a lot better at dishing it out than taking it back."

    A revised version of LePage's address was released Thursday with no longer mentions King. In the news if you make a mistake you publicly have to make a correction, admitting the mistake. That would also be a normal procedure for a press office of a governor. But then again, checking facts is also something the news has to do, and should also be a normal procedure for a press office of a governor.

    "What mystifies me is why he would say something this wrong when it’s so easy to check. It’s the laziness that makes me mad. It makes you wonder if anyone is driving the bus, or if it’s on autopilot." said King.

    LePage's office has not responded to requests for comment.

  • New state analysis shows LePage tax cuts tilted towards Maine’s wealthiest

    Under LePage plan, top earners will get $10,000 in tax breaks, while middle income families will receive $145. Photo state Capitol by Ramona du Houx

     Mainers making more than $400,000 will get a huge tax break by the time Governor Paul LePage’s budget goes into full effect in 2019, according to a new state analysis released Monday from the Maine Revenue Services. 

    The analysis shows Mainers earning $40,000 will receive $145 per year by 2019, while those making $400,000 will receive $10,679.

    Top Democrats on the Legislature’s Taxation Committee said the report confirmed concerns about the Governor’s proposal, which also gives $118 million in tax breaks to corporations in the next four years.

    “No politician should defend giving $10,000 to people who make more than $400,000 per year while working families send their kids to school hungry and seniors can’t afford their prescription drugs,” said Rep. Adam Goode, the House Chair of the Taxation Committee. “It’s a matter of fairness.”

     Goode added, “Maine families deserve a better deal. We can’t afford tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, while investment in our people, our schools and our economy suffer.”

     Gov. LePage’s budget would result in a $48 million tax shift onto property taxpayers and communities to fund K-12 education, a likely increase in tuition at the community college, and the elimination of $4 million in funding for pre-K. The Governor’s budget will leave a $300 million hole in the state’s coffers starting in 2018. Similar proposals from Republican governors in Kansas and Louisiana have resulted in deep cuts to education.

    “Today’s data confirms the cold, hard truth about Gov. LePage’s budget and who actually prospers under his plan,” said Phil Bartlett, chair of MDP. “The wealthiest Mainers will receive huge tax breaks, while middle class families will see little relief. His budget priorities don’t reflect Maine values, or give working Mainers a shot at a better future. We need a budget that is fair to all working families. Driving up property taxes to give huge tax cuts to the wealthy few is simply unfair.”

    The report from Maine Revenue Services combines the cumulative impact of income, sales and property tax changes in it’s analysis. It does not include the elimination of revenue sharing in 2017. (See MRS chart, Table 7.)

  • Tax haven bill prevents tax evasion, levels playing field for Maine businesses

    By Ramona du Houx

     States lose an estimated $20 billion annually because of corporate use of offshore tax havens. While President Obama is attempting to close some of these tax abuses it's generally up to the states to close loopholes.

     Maine currently is powerless to prevent corporations from avoiding taxes by shifting massive profits to offshore to these tax havens, but a bill before the Legislature could stop this abuse, said Joel Johnson, an economist with the Maine Center for Economic Policy, who testified before the Taxation Committee on Monday.

    “Major corporations doing business in Maine can enjoy the use of Maine’s roads and bridges, our public safety, and our educated workforce, while at the same time paying far less than their fair share of the cost of these public goods and amenities,” said Johnson.

    LD 341, An Act To Prevent Tax Haven Abuse, would prevent multinational corporations from dodging taxes in Maine by using accounting tricks that make it seem as though the income was generated elsewhere. Under the measure sponsored by Rep. Ryan Tipping-Spitz, corporations would have to report income from a list of known offshore tax havens, including Liechtenstein, Bahrain, Luxembourg and Monaco.

    According to Tipping-Spitz, Maine is losing $10 million each two-year budget period because of this use of offshore tax havens.

     “The bottom line: when we forgo the collection of these taxes, we are leaving local small businesses and Maine people holding the tab,” said Tipping-Spitz, who served on the Taxation Committee in the previous Legislature. “Is this too complicated to tackle? No. Tax authorities from these other states are willing to work with us to share best practices and help Maine implement a strong, fair law. When our committee was working this bill last year, I found it useful to remind myself of the good $10 million can do for working people and small business owners here in Maine.”

    Tipping-Spitz stated that five states and the District of Columbia already have adopted practices like those in LD 341. Maine already has domestic tax evasion checks in place to prevent corporations from hiding money in states like Delaware and Nevada.

    During the public hearing, Tipping-Spitz recommended that the committee remove the Republic of Ireland from the list of tax havens currently in the bill and include language that requires Maine Revenue Services to report out suggested updates to the list biannually, as Montana does.

     

     

  • PUC gives in to LePage, reverses wind energy contracts

    Kibby Wind Farm, in Western Maine, opened in 2010 and has given thousands back to the communities it serves with programs and TIFF's- tax incentives.  Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Top Maine lawmakers in the State House denounced the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state's energy regulator that is mandated not to make political decisions,  for caving to Governor Paul LePage’s demands to reopen bids on two approved wind contracts. 

    The three-member commission, which is supposed to be independent, reversed its decision in a 2-1 vote. The PUC previously approved contract terms with SunEdison and NextEra for wind projects in Hancock County and Somerset County. That approval allowed the parties to begin negotiating final contracts with Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine. A lot of work they never would have undertaken if they new LePage was going to pull the plug on. The contracts, which were approved two months ago, would have helped to lower electric costs for Maine consumers by $69 million and create jobs.

    “The Public Utilities Commission is meant to serve the public’s interest – not the governor’s ideology. Maine should be open for all businesses – not just the businesses the governor favors,” said House Speaker Mark Eves. “He is throwing away real energy savings and jobs that Maine needs. Just as we saw when he meddled with StatOil, he is putting hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investment in our state at risk.”

    Newly appointed PUC Commissioner Carlie McLean - former legal counsel to LePage  - joined the Commission’s Chair and LePage appointee Mark Vannoy to reverse the decision. Commissioner David Littell voted against the re-opening the bid.

    “I’m disappointed to see Commissioner McLean overturn a decision with so little evidence and put future energy business contracts in jeopardy,” said Mark Dion, House Chair of the Legislature’s Energy Utilities and Technology Committee. “This creates an unpredictable environment for future business contracts.”

    According to a letter from LePage to the Commission obtained by MPBN,  LePage attempted to persuade the commissioners to ignore language in the law that directs them to consider new renewable energy sources.

    LePage wrote, "I request that you expand your current request for proposals to include any clean resource, including existing hydropower and nuclear, and review whether these potential contracts could have benefits for the ratepayers in Maine and our broader economy." 

    Nearly 50 individuals and businesses submitted comments warning that re-opening the bid would create economic uncertainty.

    “Shame on the PUC and Gov. LePage for once again yanking the welcome mat out from under two substantial businesses. Broken promises like these do nothing to reassure business that their capital is welcome here. In fact, decisions like these tarnish our reputation and scare off future opportunities,” said State Senator Dawn HIll.

     Statoil, which promised to invest $120 million to develop offshore wind technology in Maine took its investments overseas to Scotland, because LePage pushed through legislation that took away a contract Statoil had made with the PUC.

  • Maine citizens urge lawmakers not to cut funding to towns, property tax relief, schools and public safety

    by Ramona du Houx 

    Deep concerns about rising property taxes and the ability of cities and towns to maintain vital services dominated a public hearing Wednesday on Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed plan to abolish state revenue sharing as part of his proposed $6.5 billion state budget. The proposal is viewed as being a way to shift costs from the state to towns, many of which don't have anyway to pay for the deficit besides raising property taxes.

    Dozens of people, including municipal officials and police, fire and library workers, from all across the state turned out to the joint public hearing before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Taxation Committee to testify against the revenue sharing provision of the governor’s budget. Town leaders from rural Maine – including Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock, Piscataquis and Washington counties – told the legislators about the impact that revenue sharing cuts have already had on their budgets, municipal services and property taxes and how much more their communities would suffer with the elimination of revenue sharing.

    “The state cannot turn its back on local communities,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, the House chair of the Appropriations Committee. “Today we heard about the devastating impact that the elimination of these funds will have on schools, emergency services and property taxpayers, especially seniors trying to get by on fixed incomes and young families. We owe it to our towns and their residents and small businesses to protect these vital funds.”

    The LePage budget would end the state’s decades-old revenue sharing arrangement with Maine towns and cities. The state gives back around 5 percent of sales and income taxes to communities, which rely on these funds for services like education, firefighting and road maintenance while keeping property taxes in check. During LePage's last term he already cut the revenue sharing forcing many communities to raise property taxes.

    “We heard repeatedly from town officials across our state that the cuts to revenue sharing are detrimental and miss the mark. We should be looking for ways to reduce property taxes, not shift additional taxes on to homeowners,” said Sen. Linda Valentino who serves on the Appropriations Committee. “No community should have to choose between underfunding and understaffing our public works or police departments in place of rising property taxes.”

    Under the LePage administration, state revenues have increased, but revenue sharing funds to towns have plummeted. From Fiscal Year 2012-2014, Maine reduced revenue sharing funds to Maine towns by 32 percent. If the Legislature does not blunt these proposed cuts, they will be completely eliminated in the second year of the budget.

    Winslow Town Councilor Ken Fletcher, a former lawmaker and LePage’s former energy chief, testified that the elimination of revenue sharing would result in the loss of approximately $940,000 – an amount that is greater that the town’s public works, police or fire budgets. He expressed concern about the increase in the property tax burden that would result from the loss of revenue sharing and the governor’s proposed elimination of the Homestead Exemption for those under 65.

    “It is generally accepted that property taxes are the most regressive of the three primary tax methods. Please do not place more of a burden on Maine homeowners by underfunding Revenue Sharing and eliminating the Homestead Exemption,” Fletcher said.

    “Small rural communities like ours don’t have plush budgets. We don’t have administrators. We have no ‘rainy day’ funds,” Perry First Selectman Karen Raye said in written testimony presented to the committees. “People are angry at their increased property tax bills. This is only going to make the situation worse.”

    Revenue sharing is the only discretionary funding towns get from the state to cover costs like snowplowing – a particularly vivid example given that the forecast calls for yet another storm.

    From plowing to emergency responders to putting down additional salt and sand, municipalities put these dollars to work with each snowstorm.

    Public hearings on the tax portions of the governor’s budget will continue Thursday.  

  • The Appropriations Committee’s Public Hearing Schedule for LePage’s Proposed State Budget that hits the middle class hard

    By Ramona du Houx

    The overall outcome of Governor LePage’s tax portion of his proposed two-year state budget, if passed as it is, would place an unfair burden on the middle class, while the top 2 percent of wealthy Maine taxpayers would see a dramatic tax cut. At the same time towns accross Maine will most likely have to increase property taxes to make up for the state cutting off revenue sharing. Small towns don't have large non-profits to levy a property tax on, as LePage wants, so they most likely will be forced to cut services or increase property taxes.

    The centerpiece ofs his so called "tax reform" proposal includes: 

    •Eliminating municipal revenue sharing- (no more funding from the state to towns)
    •Doubling the Homestead property tax exemption for homeowners at least 65 years of age
    •But eliminating the Homestead property tax exemption for all other homeowners
    •Imposing a property tax on non-profit institutions over $500,000 in value
    •Transferring two-way telecommunications property from state to municipal taxing jurisdiction
    •Shifting all taxable property in the BETR program to tax exempt status in the BETE program
    •Reducing personal and corporate income tax rates and phasing out the estate tax
    •Expanding the state’s sales tax base to include a wide ranges of services 
    •Increasing the general sales tax rate to 6.5 percent

    The Appropriations Committee has scheduled the public hearings on many of the municipally-related taxation-related proposals for next week.

    The proposal to eliminate municipal revenue sharing is scheduled for public hearing on Wednesday next week (February 18th). The public hearings on the proposals related to the homestead property tax exemption, taxing exempt institutions, the BETR-to-BETE conversion, and the tax jurisdiction of telecommunications property are scheduled for Thursday next week (February 19th).

    Municipal officials are urged to attend these public hearings for the purpose of providing information to our lawmakers about the impacts of the Governor’s proposals on your community.

  • Ramona du Houx: No more tax shifts

    Ramona du Houx
     
    Columns & Analysis | 
    Sunday, February 1, 2015

    Cutting taxes, most everyone would agree, could be a great idea. But how do you go about it without placing more of burden on the middle class?

    Not with Gov. Paul LePage’s plan.

    While LePage is trying to tackle the issue, his plan is focused on benefiting the top 2 percent. With his proposal those earning $50,000 to $175,000 will be taxed at the highest tax rate. And those earning about $10,000 to $50,000 would pay the same tax rate as the top 2 percent.

    So a schoolteacher earning $26,000 will pay the same rate as a successful investment banker who would get a 2.2 percentage-point cut to his tax rate. With the elimination of the estate tax, the top 2 percent will see a boon.

    LePage already cut the tax rate for the wealthiest. This is the second round and, again, the middle class will carry the burden. But then he plans to stop sending funding to municipalities for essential services. This cost-shifting will end up, as it has been, in property tax increases.

    When LePage was Waterville’s mayor, he ranted against any mention of cutting revenue sharing. Oh, the costs that shifting circumstances have on some politicians.

    What will hurt people daily is the sales tax increase to 6.5 percent. While I love going to the movies, I do not relish paying an expanded sales tax for my ticket. People will have to pay sales tax to have their hair done, go to a concert or visit a museum. Just to get the snow removed, hire an accountant or lawyer, or get a tow to the mechanic will cost people that sales tax increase.

    That tax plan is backward.

    Back in 2009, then-Gov. John Baldacci and Democratic lawmakers came up with a similar plan. The big difference was that the plan did not stop revenue sharing, increase property taxes or cut back on essential services. Yet it cut taxes for all tax-paying citizens, eliminating them for the less fortunate.

    But real tax relief for all never happened, as the right wing ad factory led the public to believe they would be paying a lot more because of sales taxes.

    A recent analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy evaluated the local tax burden in every state. According to the study, in 2015, the poorest fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes; the middle fifth will pay 9.4 percent; and the top 1 percent will average 5.4 percent.

    From the report: “States and localities have regressive systems because they tend to rely more on sales and excise taxes, which are the same rate for rich and poor alike. Even property taxes, which account for much of local tax revenue, hit working- and middle-class families harder than the wealthy because their homes often represent their largest asset.”

    This ideological battle is being waged across the nation and involves the right wing promoting the economics of austerity over investing in people and programs in innovation that can grow the economy.

    Baldacci had it right. He consolidated administrations from school districts to branches of state government. He got the prison system to work together, and stopped agencies from duplicating work, all while getting bond initiatives passed that would go on to help research and development — the type of research that led to the University of Maine’s breakthroughs in bio-fuels and composite technologies.

    Maine’s innovative technologies began to really take off after 2007 with voter-approved bonds. The $50 million investment became known as the Maine Technology Asset Fund and nourished growing sectors of high-wage jobs.

    The funds were rewarded on a competitive basis. The recipients of the fund’s grants secured more than $80 million in matching funds. A 2011 evaluation of Maine’s research and development investments found that those 29 projects, that were granted funding by mid-2011, had directly created 289.5 jobs and preserved 303 in traditionally higher-paying sectors. Nineteen of those projects led to the creation of a new product or service.

    It is interesting to note that the MTAF hasn’t received any new funding since 2010.

    Maine's community colleges also received bond funding for their expansions, which has enabled thousands to get good-paying jobs

    Cutting taxes for the top 2 percent has not yielded jobs for Maine, or the nation. Meanwhile, America has experienced job growth for more than four years with Obama’s policies.

    Maine has been held back because of the trickle-down economic mantra LePage follows.

    Ramona du Houx is a published author and has written about Maine politics for 10 years. She is co-owner of Polar Bear & Company publishing and owns the news magazine Maine Insights. She lives in Solon.

  • Invest in job creation, not LePage's cost-shift tax policy

    Editorial by Ramona du Houx

    Cutting taxes, most everyone would agree, could be a great idea. But how do you go about it without placing more burden on the middle class? Not with LePage’s plan. While LePage is trying to tackle the issue, his plan is focused on benefiting the top 2 percent. With his proposal, those earning $50,000 to $175,000 will be taxed at the highest tax rate. And those earning about $10,000 to $50,000 would pay — the same tax rate — as the top 2 percent. So a school teacher earning $26,000 will pay the same rate as a successful investment banker who would get a 2.2 percentage-point cut to his tax rate. With the elimination of the estate tax, the top 2 percent will receive a boon. LePage already cut the tax rate for the wealthiest — this is the second round — and again the middle class will carry the burden.

    And he plans to stop sending any funding to municipalities for essential services. This cost-shifting will end up, as it has been, in property tax increases. When LePage was mayor of Waterville, he ranted against any mention of cutting back the funds to cities from the state. Oh, the costs that shifting circumstances have on some politicians!

    What will hurt people on a day-to-day basis is the sales tax increase to 6.5 percent. While I love going to the movies, I do not relish paying an expanded sales tax for my ticket. To have your hair done, go to a concert or visit a museum, you’ll have to pay sales tax. Just to get the snow removed, hire an accountant or lawyer or get a tow to the mechanic will cost you that sales-tax increase.

    This tax plan is backwards. While it appears to expand tax relief for the less fortunate, those same people will have to pay for the increased sales tax, and if they own a home or business — very significantly increased property taxes, and many of their benefits will also be slashed with health-program cuts.

    Back in 2009, Governor John Baldacci and Democratic lawmakers came up with a similar plan. The big difference was that the plan did not stop revenue-sharing to cities. It did not increase property taxes, and it did not cut back on essential services. Yet, it cut taxes for all tax-paying citizens, eliminating them for the less fortunate.

    But because it raised the sales tax, Republicans went to work and flooded the airwaves with ads declaring certain services would skyrocket. So, real tax relief for all never happened, as the right-wing ad factory led the public to believe they would be paying a lot more because of sales taxes. The opposite was true.
     

    A recent analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy evaluated the local tax burden in every state. According to the study, in 2015 the poorest fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes; the middle fifth will pay 9.4 percent, and the top 1 percent will average 5.4 percent.

    “States and localities have regressive systems because they tend to rely more on sales and excise taxes, which are the same rate for rich and poor alike. Even property taxes, which account for much of local tax revenue, hit working- and middle-class families harder than the wealthy because their homes often represent their largest asset,” reads the report.

    This ideological battle is being waged across the nation and involves the right wing promoting the economics of austerity over investing in people and programs in innovation that can grow the economy.

    Baldacci had it right. He consolidated administrations from school districts to branches of state government. He got the prison system to work together, and stopped agencies from duplicating work, while getting bond initiatives passed that would go on to help research and development (R&D) — the type of research that led to the University of Maine’s breakthroughs in bio-fuels and composite technologies. The VolturnUS offshore floating wind turbine is the first of it’s kind in the Americas, and so is The Ocean Renewable Power Company’s tidal power generator. Both were developed at UMaine laboratories; both received state bond funding to jumpstart them. And federal grants happened directly afterwards.

    Maine’s innovative technologies began to really take off after 2007, with voter-approved bonds. The  $50 million investment became know as the Maine Technology Asset Fund and nourished growing sectors of high-wage jobs.

    The funds were rewarded on a competitive basis to university labs, businesses, and nonprofit groups with plans approved by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The recipients of the fund’s grants secured more than $80 million in matching funds. A 2011 evaluation of Maine’s R&D investments found that these 29 projects, which were granted funding by mid-2011, had directly created 289.5 jobs and preserved 303 jobs in traditionally higher-paying sectors. Nineteen of those projects had led to the creation of a new product or service.

    But the Maine Technology Asset Fund hasn’t received a new infusion of funds since 2010. A legislative committee formed in 2006 outlined an R&D strategy for the state and recommended a $50 million annual bond investment in the Maine Technology Institute.

     Community Colleges received bond funding for their expansions, which has enabled thousands to get good-paying jobs. Gov. Baldacci put in new job-training initiatives, which have worked, but as the workplace changes and new tech jobs emerge, more needs to be done.

    Cutting taxes for the top 2 percent has not yielded jobs for Maine or the nation. This sector of society already has been given many chances to prove their "trickle-down" economics. America has experienced job growth for over four years with President Barack Obama’s policies. Maine has been held back because of the trickle-down mantra LePage follows.

    At a recent press conference, Democrats said they have proposed bills for job training, workforce development, college affordability, and job creation. No doubt they will include R&D bonds in this mix.

    All lawmakers should remember we had significant job growth before the Great Recession, and that was largely due to Baldacci’s policies. The state is in need of a real R&D bond package. And interest rates are historically low with the Fed at the zero-lower bound. The ongoing ripple effect in the economy from bond investments has been proven to create new companies with new jobs.

  • LePage's budget would see middle class paying highest tax rate

    Bangor, Maine, might be forced to raise property taxes next year because of LePage's budget proposal. If passed, all Maine towns and cities will carry the burden of no more state revenue-sharing — meaning they will have to pay for certain needed services without state funds.  Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Proposal will make property taxes and sales tax skyrocket

    By Ramona du Houx

    People across the state, across the political spectrum, have noticed that while Gov. Paul LePage has been in office their property taxes have risen. But how many know the culprit has been the governor’s budgets that have made drastic cuts to municipalities by slashing state revenue-sharing funds?  Without this needed source of money, cities have had few options to pay for the services they provide. Many towns have laid off first-responders, cut services to people, and increased property taxes.

    And the cycle could get worse if LePage is able to steamroll this $6.3 billion, two-year state-spending package through the Legislature. The governor is doing his best to sell his budget as a plan that brings tax relief to Maine families and small businesses. But the opposite is the reality.

    The tax cuts contained in the governor's budget proposal will benefit the wealthy and larger corporations, while raising sales and property taxes for the majority of Mainers. Overall, LePage is trying to drastically reduce corporate taxes, cut personal income tax rates, while broadening and increasing the sales tax, eliminating the home mortgage deduction, the homestead exemption for people under age 65, municipal revenue sharing, and the estate tax.

    His budget hits the middle class hard. What people may save with a lower tax rate they still will have to pay through increased property taxes.

    Concern is being raised about the proposed elimination of municipal revenue sharing, next year, which would directly result in property taxes skyrocketing. All of Maine's 432 cities and towns would be drastically hit.

    “We have already lost $8 million over the last three years. We will have to be prepared to deal with losing a minimum of $3 million a year from here on out. These cuts don't hurt wealthy people; these cuts hit middle-class homeowners, middle-class parents, and all citizens who would like to see adequate police, fire and public works in their town or city,” said Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci. “We should be focusing on long-term investments that will grow our economy with bonds. We must invest in our workforce and families with an increase in the minimum wage, job training, early childhood education, affordable higher education, and property-tax relief." 

    Under LePage's plan, the top corporate income tax rate would decrease to 6.75 percent from 8.93 percent. Most of the big corporations are not Maine-based.

    Citizens who make the most will pay less than those in the middle-class taxpayer bracket.

    Economists have pointed out that this formula means the middle class will ultimately be paying more in taxes, not to mention the inevitable property-tax increases they will have to pay as well.

    LePage’s plan projects into 2019, where he wants incomes of:

    • $9,700 to $50,000 to be taxed at 5.75 percent
    • $50,000 to $175,000 to be taxed at 6.5 percent, and
    • $175,000 up to be taxed at 5.75 percent.

    It’s easy to see how hard — and unjust — it would be for a taxpayer making $9,700 to $50,000 to have to pay the same percentage in taxes as someone earning $175,000. For example a teacher making $25,000 would have to pay the same tax rate of 5.75 percent — the same rate the top 1 percent of Mainers earn.

    In addition, the 31 percent of Mainers who itemize deductions on their state tax returns will lose that provision, as it too is being eliminated.

    “The governor's tax proposal isn’t a tax cut — it’s a tax shift that will place an unfair burden on middle-class Mainers who are already struggling to get by," said Former State Senator Phil Bartlett, chair of the Maine Democrat Party. "This budget will only further increase income inequality in our state."

    A state budget should strengthen communities, support vulnerable residents, and build a vibrant economy.

    “Prioritizing tax cuts for the top 1 percent and corporations is a failed prescription for growing Maine's economy. They will also trigger harmful cuts in health care for children, the elderly, and the disabled, delay essential repairs to our crumbling roads and bridges, and undercut a good education for our kids,” said Executive director Garrett Martin of the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP).  "The experience of other states that have followed a path that prioritizes tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations shows that this is an ineffective, fiscally irresponsible strategy for growing the economy. Those states have not realized significant economic benefits but have cut programs families and businesses value, increased property and sales taxes, and had their credit ratings downgraded.”

    The sales tax increase on services —

    The sales tax increase will hit home for every Mainer doing everyday things and hurt small businesses, as it jumps to 6.5 percent, and services it covers would expand significantly.

    • No longer would the services of a lawyer, financial planner, or accountant be sales-tax-exempt.
    • Pest control, snow removal and landscaping, haircuts, nail and skin care, or event planning no longer would be tax-free.
    • Tax would be added to the cost of movie tickets, ski and golf outings, and gymnastics, art and music lessons.

    LePage’s plan includes a hefty property-tax increase for large nonprofits —

    Hospitals, colleges and private schools could suddenly be paying property taxes, in the second year of the budget, to help offset the elimination of municipal revenue-sharing. But the amount of revenue collected would not cover all revenue-sharing for smaller towns without any big nonprofits, and it’s doubtful they could cover the costs of Portland.

    Educational institutions say that such a measure would impact the quality of education they provide.

    “These institutions are a major industry in many localities, create significant local economic activity, and provide cultural benefits to their communities. Without the property-tax exemption, Maine private nonprofit educational institutions would be placed at a competitive disadvantage with other states’ institutions and with the public colleges of Maine. The state should not be in the business of picking winners and losers,” read a statement by the Maine Independent Colleges Association. 

    “A new tax would push college costs higher and would, ultimately, diminish our ability to raise the educational attainment of the region’s economy,” said Laurie Lachance, president of Thomas College in Waterville and former state economist during Gov. John Baldacci’s administration.

    As for the hospitals right now, some are complaining that the state didn’t accept federal funding for health care. They were planning on the Medicaid funds, because they would have been the benefactors of much of the funding to pay for the hundreds of walk-in cases they have to accept in emergency rooms.

    LePage's provision that eliminates the state tax deduction for charitable contributions compounds the burden placed on nonprofits; meanwhile corporations will get a windfall.

    LePage’s handout to large corporations comes with no guarantee that they will increase business in Maine — while nonprofits have helped the communities they are in for decades with educational and cultural offerings, as well as healthcare. If these nonprofits are forced to pay property tax, that community bond will be damaged.

    LePage claims to have saved more than he actually has from all of his cuts to public assistance programs put together. Let’s not forget the unmeasured cost of the lives ruined by those cutbacks.

    When he slashed the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and cut off support for 3,000 families, the state only gained $2.5 million a year, according to the governor’s own projections. The cuts to General Assistance for immigrants that LePage pushed through are due to affect 1,000 families and save just $1 million, according to his office’s estimates.

    The 2011 budget eliminated the tax for individuals earning less than $5,200 annually and cut the top tax rate to 7.95 percent from 8.5 percent. That $5,200 will be raised to $9,700 in 2016 under the proposed budget. However, the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income residents would disappear. The EITC is a lifeline for many families.

    In the past the governor’s proposals have changed when Democrats controlled both the Senate and House, and last year part of the Circuit Breaker, which helps low-income home owners pay their property taxes, was reinstated, after being striped by the previous Republican-controlled State House. Now the Republicans are in charge of the Senate.

    Middle-class workeres will pay more taxes, as a percentage of their income, than Maine's 1 percent top earners under LePages tax shift. Those making over $50 thousand will pay a higher tax rate than those making over $175,000. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    The budget goes first to the Appropriations Committee to be worked on by lawmakers and adjusted. “Our committee will be poring over the details of the budget, with a focus on protecting Maine families, seniors, and our schools,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, the House chair of Appropriations. “I’m optimistic Republicans and Democrats can work together to craft a fiscally responsible budget. I do have concerns, as I look at the budget, particularly the cut to the Drugs for the Elderly program, which helps so many seniors across the state afford their medicine.”  

    LePage proposes to cut the Low-Cost Drugs for the Elderly Program by more than $1.2 million over two years.

    Some of the other items in the proposed two-year budget that stand out:

    In Education:

    The budget would reduce state funding for teacher retirement costs by about $35 million in fiscal year 2016 and $31 million in fiscal year 2017. Continuing LePage’s efforts to shift a percentage of retirement costs to municipalities. Up until his biennial budget two years ago, which shifted 5 percent of those costs to towns and cities, the state was paying teacher retirement costs 100 percent. 

    The state never reached the voter-mandated goal of paying for 55 percent for local education. Education funding was cut during the last four years. Now LePage proposes flat funding for education. He is also trying to introduce a process where schools will have to apply for competitive grants to help school districts consolidate their administrations.

    In Justice:

    The governor proposes allocating $1 million in each of the next two years to fund legal challenges by the his executive branch, when the attorney general declines to represent the state.

    Health and Human services:

    There is increased funding proposed for Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, which has lost its certification from the U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, when the LePage administration failed to meet federal standards. The facility is now scheduled to loose $20 million annually in federal funding.

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