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Maine Group Pushes for Higher Taxes on Wealthy
11/14/2012   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

At the end of this year, America is facing the so-called fiscal cliff. You've probably heard something about it by now, and by the end of the year, at least another 8,000 citizens across Maine will have heard about it too, as part of a new grassroots campaign kicked off this afternoon by the Maine People's Alliance. As Jennifer Mitchell reports, the MPA is trying to send a message to Maine's congressional delegates that the Bush-era tax breaks should expire for the nation's wealthiest top 2 percent.

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Maine Group Pushes for Higher Taxes on Wealthy Listen

Grassroot canvasers singing to the tune of Yellow Rose of Texas:
"A fairer rate of taxes on our households at the top
Would ease our fiscal crisis and make our debt load drop..."

And that's basically what the Maine People's Alliance's new campaign is all about. Between now and the end of the year, they're going door to door to at least 14,000 households, with the goal of convincing at least 8,000 to join the push and tell congress to allow tax cuts to expire for the nation's wealthiest citizens in order to help reduce the federal deficit.

And they're starting in some of the state's poorest neighborhoods - like this one. "We're in what's known as Capehart in Bangor. It is public housing that used to be old military base housing and now it's home to a lot of working families- working poor families," says Nicole Brown from the Maine People's Alliance.

Brown says communities like this one are often disconnected from the budget discussions that go on in Washington. And learning the finer points on the so-called fiscal cliff isn't exactly at the top of people's to-do lists, when one is juggling several jobs, school, and parenthood, as many of the Capehart residents are.

But with the majority of them on some kind of public assistance, from MaineCare to food stamps, Brown says that the prospect of what could happen to entitlement programs at the end of the year does matter.

"The majority of them are really hard working people that are working low wage jobs and trying to support their families," Brown says. "There's a high rate of unemployment out here. It's really the place in Bangor, if you want to hear how how this economy is affecting hard working people at the bottom, it's the place to come."

Here's the issue: If Congress doesn't act, two things will happen simultaneously on Dec. 31: some potentially steep cuts to government spending - which could affect a variety of social programs on which low income Mainers rely - will kick in, and nearly every tax cut made in the past decade will expire.

Both of these measures have come about because the parties in Washington couldn't agree on a plan for how to reduce America's trillion-plus deficit. Together, the spending cuts, coupled with higher taxes, could put the brakes on the nation's economic growth - hence the fiscal cliff everyone keeps talking about.

But some, including the MPA, say that just increasing taxes on the wealthiest citizens could go a long way to bridging the fiscal gap, and they're hoping that Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe will agree and support such a plan during the last lame duck days before the start of the New Year.

"The top 1 percent in this country hold 90 percent of wealth in this country, so it's important that we look at how do we provide a better balance for families?" says Ana Hicks, senior policy analyst at Maine Equal Justice Partners. Hicks says that by taxing the highest income earners at the higher, Clinton-era tax rates, the country would recoup about $1.1 trillion of the $1.2 trillion needed in revenue to prevent deep across-the-board cuts to social programs.

And it's a message that seems to be resonating with the residents at Capehart - residents like Nicole Hustis, who says her mother-in-law can't afford heat this winter. "I'm not very into politics, but I can see that. I can look at the numbers and I can see very clearly that they're not paying their fair share," Hustis says.

President Obama and leaders in Congress have indicated that they intend to avoid the fiscal cliff. But so far, they haven't agreed on how to accomplish that.


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