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Maine Democrats Propose Alternative to LePage Budget Plan
05/29/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Today, Democratic lawmakers in Augusta offered a long-awaited alternative to Republican Gov. Paul LePage's proposed two-year state budget: They want to delay implementing income and estate tax cuts approved by the Legislature two years ago. Democrats say it's a better, and more fair, approach than the governor's plan, which would suspend revenue sharing with municipalities and, say critics, result in higher property taxes. But as Patty Wight reports, Republicans say the Democrat's plan is just as burdensome to Maine taxpayers - if not more so.

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Back in January, when Gov. Paul LePage introduced his plan to suspend municipal revenue sharing for two years, he argued that the state simply couldn't afford it, and it was time for towns and cities to make their own tough choices. More than 60 towns and school districts responded by signing resolutions against LePage's budget.

Democratic Senate Leader Justin Alfond (at podium, right) says the problem is, it would force towns to raise property taxes to make up for the cuts. "Does every Mainer want their property tax to increase significantly? This budget will do so. The bottom line: The governors budget raises taxes."

Alfond spoke at a press conference at the State House on Wednesday, surrounded by fellow Democrats, and joined by House Speaker Mark Eves. A more balanced approach to the budget, says Eves, is to temporarily hold off on previously approved income and estate tax cuts.

While it may have seemed like a good idea two years ago, he says, Maine's economy isn't growing at the right pace to justify the cuts. "Right now, Maine can't afford a tax break that was not paid for," he said.

Eves and Alfond say those tax cuts mostly benefit the wealthy, and that pushing them off for a couple years will bring in some $400 million in revenues to the state.

But Senate Minority Leader Mike Thibodeau says the numbers don't add up. "It's amazing to me that the Democrats would choose to hold a rally in order to announce that they want to increase the tax burdens on the citizens of the state of Maine," Thibodeau says. "I don't know who came up with that idea, but I just think that's in poor taste."

Thibodeau says the income tax cuts, which began in January, benefit many low-income Mainers.

"That's the people we're talking about - people that make $19,000 or more. That's incredible to me. Folks that are making thme kind of wages are struggling at home, and now we're going to ask them for a bigger percentage of their paycheck in order to fund this government? I think I think that's poor public policy."

Equally incredulous at the Democrats' proposal is Republican Sen. Roger Katz. He says the tax cuts were voted in two years ago under widespread bipartisan approval, and that many of those now calling for the deferral were among the supporters at the time.

"You saw about 50 people standing there, and I think about 40 of them were here last session, and I bet 38 out of those 40 voted for this tax decrease, which was 'so horrible,'" he says.

Katz says balancing the budget is a choice between right-sizing government or raising taxes. He says Republicans are committed to restoring some of the proposed municipal revenue sharing cuts. Even if some of those cuts remain, LePage spokesperson Adrienne Bennett says that doesn't necessarily neam automatic hikes in local property taxes.

"They can make those decisions locally," she says, "on whether or not it's either raising property taxes or finding efficiencies in services."

Bennett says LePage knows full well he'll have to compromise on the budget. LePage told reporters earlier on Wednesday that he will not sign on to any new taxes for Mainers. Lawmakers have until July 1 to agree on a balanced budget.

Photos: Patty Wight


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