For the past two years, a curious malady seems to have gripped Maine Democrats. It’s most pronounced in legislators who have served since 2010, but it’s spread to new legislators as well, to varying degrees, and even is appearing in regular Mainers. It’s a form of amnesia – or, perhaps, self-hypnosis – that is remarkably limited and specific to one issue: taxes.
Let’s call it taxnesia.
Taxnesia causes the sufferer to forget details of the 2011 tax cut package passed as part of the budget that year. Those stricken by this syndrome forget that those tax reductions, the largest in Maine history, were not targeted to the wealthiest Mainers, as is so often claimed. Indeed, it contained several provisions meant to help those on the lower end of the income scale, including eliminating Maine’s lowest tax bracket. This and other changes removed over 70,000 low-income Mainers from the income tax rolls entirely.
So much for these tax cuts targeting the rich.
Moreover, even the reduction in that top rate from 8.5% to 7.95% wasn’t truly targeted to the wealthy. If you’re not suffering from taxnesia, you might be able to recall that Maine’s top tax rate kicks in at $20,900 annual income for individuals, or $41,850 for married couples. That might be enough to pay a mortgage and your bills (if you’re lucky), but it’s hardly enough to go jetting to Las Vegas for the weekend or take your yacht to Monaco for Le Mans.
Still, it’s not just with numbers that taxnesia has its most insidious effect. After all, those are confusing, even in the best of times. What’s truly terrible about taxnesia is that people completely forget that these tax cuts were not passed in a party line vote, unlike the Democrats’ own attempt to change Maine tax law. These reductions were passed in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, sailing through the House 123-19 and flying through the Senate 29-5. It earned the support of Democratic leaders like then-House Minority Leader Emily Cain and current Senate President Justin Alfond.
It was after the session ended and campaign season began that taxnesia kicked in. Instead of taking credit for working with their colleagues across the aisle, Democrats began attacking the tax cuts they voted for as ‘Republican tax cuts for the rich’. They immediately turned on a bill they should have been touting as an accomplishment, reversing their position with dizzying speed.
In the past, when the Legislature has passed a budget in bipartisan fashion, it’s given it a certain degree of immunity from criticism. Nobody really likes it, but because everyone voted for it, it’s tough to construct an entire campaign strategy around attacking it. In a state that has a two-thirds majority requirement for a budget, even the minority party is forced to accept a certain stake in he outcome.
It’s called governing.
Unfortunately, this new approach worked, regardless of whatever bridges it may have burned, as it led the Democrats to retake the Legislature in 2012. Upon seizing power yet again, Democrats attempted to roll back the tax cuts they had voted for a few short months before. After that effort sputtered and died, they convinced just enough Republicans to go along with increasing other taxes under the guise of balancing the budget.
Unfortunately, taxnesia has affected not only those suffering from it directly, but the entire state. It has somehow managed to turn a bipartisan broad based tax cut into a Republican tax cut for the rich, and helped lead to even higher taxes for a state that us already overtaxed.
We can fight it together, though.
By asking candidates details about their tax relief plans, we can determine whether they’re serious about lowering taxes or just using empty rhetoric to sway votes. Together, we can return a majority to Augusta that’s serious about tax relief, and won’t just break their promises as soon as they get under the dome.
It’s up to you.