Last November, Maine voters sent a clear, if somewhat mixed message.
By re-electing Gov. Paul LePage over Democrat Mike Michaud and giving Republicans control of the Maine Senate, they were endorsing the GOP’s message of fiscal reform and responsibility. By keeping the House in Democratic hands (with a reduced majority), they were telling Augusta politicians that they wanted the two parties to work together toward that goal.
LePage got the message. He moved forward with his plans to reduce (and eventually eliminate) the state income tax, but did so in a bipartisan way. Rather than simply cut spending to reduce the income tax, he crafted a proposal similar to previous Democratic tax reform plans. Unlike those unsuccessful efforts, though, LePage’s plan doesn’t just shift the tax burden; it actually reduces the size of government. Moreover, rather than creating additional revenue for the state to spend, it reduces revenue in future years, forcing additional spending cuts.
Unfortunately, Democrats seem to have entirely missed the message from 2014 — perhaps in part because they kept the same legislative leadership that led them to defeats last November. Rather than embracing the bipartisan consensus that was slowly forming around taxes, with some of LePage’s proposals being rejected by both parties and others being cautiously considered, they decided to release their own plan.
While they sold their scheme as a competing tax reform plan, and the media largely bought that idea, it’s a misnomer. The Democrats’ proposal isn’t really “tax reform”: it’s a tax-and-spend scheme wrapped in a campaign gimmick wrapped in a tax reform plan. Their plan continues the liberal policies of the past decades that have landed Maine its current dismal rankings in job creation without offering any truly new ideas to change anything.
The Democrats claim they want to lower property taxes, for example; however, they only offer old failures as solutions. We’ve had revenue sharing on the books for four decades with little to show for it in the way of property tax relief. This time, the Democrats propose to raise revenue sharing amounts with no spending controls at all: They’re just tossing more money at the towns with hopes that they won’t just spend it. This would be a disastrous mistake.
Where the Democrats veer truly off course, though, is with their overall approach. One might think it’s always easy to tell the difference between a tax hike and a tax cut, but with complicated plans like these it’s not necessarily so clear. That can usually be determined with two simple questions, though: Do revenues increase, and does state spending grow, under this plan? If so, it should be considered a tax hike, not a tax cut. With LePage’s plan, state revenues and spending decrease, indicating that the overall tax burden is being reduced. With the Democrats’ scheme, both revenues and spending increase, revealing that this is just another attempt to bring more tax dollars in to state government.
LePage may not be doing quite as much as he could to address the state’s spending problem in his budget, as he relies too much on tax shifts to finance his tax reductions. However, at least he is willing to recognize that spending is a problem rather than revenue. The Democrats prefer to ignore that reality, desperately attempting to increase state revenues and rejecting any serious plan to reduce the overall tax burden in this state. They’re free, of course, to keep coming up with vague plans to take more tax dollars, but at the very least they should be honest about their goal: to increase state revenue and the size of government. Then, maybe, we can finally begin to have a real debate.