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.