Gov. Paul LePage addressed a joint session of the Legislature to lay out his priorities, better known as the State of the State address. There were very few surprises, if any at all. The governor spent a majority of the time discussing his tax reform plan, a plan that leaves many questions to its effectiveness for middle class families.
The idea of lowering the income tax and raising and broadening the sales tax isn’t a new concept. In fact, it was even suggested, in a similar proposal by Democrats before a vote from the public turned it down. Republicans have been lukewarm to the idea and Democrats have been busy formulating an alternative. On paper it sounds great, keeping more of our hard earned money. We earned it, we should keep it. In reality it’s not as black and white. While we would be paying more for goods and services than we were previously and paying a higher sales tax overall, we would be waiting around at least a year or more for the income tax to decrease. Those at the very top, who make more in their income, continue to make off better than those of us struggling to get by. Though, I have to admit, I do like the idea of spurring conversation around our tax system. It’s often an issue that gets sidelined because of political consequences rather than what is needed to address long-term systemic issues.
Where's the story?1 Points Mentioned
Locally, the biggest tax issue isn’t necessarily income taxes but property taxes. There’s the elimination of municipal revenue sharing – money that goes back to communities to pay for essential programs and services such as fire and police. Without it, property taxes would most likely increase dramatically. In an effort to combat critics, the governor defends this cut by taxing nonprofits to make up for the loss of revenue. While the governor called taxing them distasteful, it’s a big part of the plan; the ability to assess a property tax on larger nonprofits. I’m hearing from places, including our local Dyer Library/Saco Museum, that it would be negatively impacted if this went through. The value of the nonprofit sector is huge when it comes to the state economy, providing community-based services that government refuses to or chooses not to provide directly.
There were areas of agreement though, pockets of bipartisan hope in the State of the State. Areas I believe we can work across party lines to collaborate on. Just a few that I heard right off the bat were increasing nursing home funding, natural gas access and expansion, hydro power and eliminating the military pension tax. While these may seem small in comparison to the bigger issues, anything we can do to first come together on, will make collaborating on the more challenging areas like our tax code a little easier. It establishes a place of yes, rather than a constant stream of no.
While the governor talked about attracting young people to the state of Maine, there wasn’t a single mention about education – not one word on a topic that affects so many families and the next generation of Mainers. How we deal with issues that surround student loan debt, college affordability, job training, etc., will be critical to achieving that goal. Education is the ladder out of poverty, so if the governor believes in “prosperity not poverty,” then he needs to recognize this important piece to the policy puzzle.
I am encouraged that this is just the beginning of the conversation to flush out what will work best in the $6.3 billion budget. Each of the policy committees will comb through different aspects to come up with something we can all agree on. I’m looking forward to working across the aisle with my Republican colleagues to get things done. As I’ve always said, I will work with anyone and everyone who is willing to leave their egos and party labels at the door to do what is best for our state and our community. This includes the governor.
Justin Chenette is serving his second term as state representative for Saco District 15. Outside the Legislature, he is owner of Chenette Media LLC, a multimedia public relations company, and is the president/CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Follow updates atwww.justinchenette.com, Facebook.com/JustinChenette, and Twitter.com/JustinChenette.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco