AUGUSTA — After a lengthy public hearing Friday on tax changes in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget, Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, said his support for implementing the Stand Up for Students ballot initiative is as steadfast as ever.
Sen. Chenette, the lead Senate Democrat on the Legislature’s Taxation Committee, criticized the special interests and lobbyists who advocated for rejecting the will of the voters by repealing the referendum language that raises taxes on wealthy Mainers by 3 percent on taxable income over $200,000 in order to adequately fund Maine’s public schools for the first time in more than a decade.
The referendum won as Question 2 at the ballot box, and opponents gave up on an initial recount effort.
“It is amazing to me that so many lobbyists and business interests came here today to urge the people’s elected representatives to the Legislature to overturn the expressed will of the people,” said Sen. Chenette. “What kind of precedent would it be for a handful of representatives and senators to so quickly and blithely overturn the results of an election?”
Gov. Paul LePage’s budget would repeal the new revenue created by the ballot initiative, and once again leave Maine well beneath its legal funding obligations to public schools. The repeal of Question 2 is one part of the governor’s overall budget proposal that drastically reduces income taxes for the wealthiest Mainers while increasing taxes, particularly property taxes, on the bottom 80 percent of income earners.
“All of this amounts to, for a lack of a better work, austerity for lower income earners — who may see their property taxes rise, as well as paying proportionally more of the incomes in sales tax — and subsidy for very high earners in the form of a tax break,” said Alex Jackimovicz, an electrical contractor in the Boothbay area. “How is that fair?”
Al DiMillo, a former tax corporate tax director and CPA, told lawmakers that the governor’s budget shifts taxes on to homeowners, including seniors on fixed incomes, who cannot afford skyrocketing property tax bills.
“The vast majority of Mainers will have a significant net tax increase over the years 2017-2020 under this plan, while a very small group of the very wealthy will have a very significant net tax cut,” DiMillo said. “Property tax, not income tax, is important retirees, yet this budget increases property taxes by more than the minor income tax cuts for the majority of retirees.”
Sen. Chenette said Democrats will continue their efforts to bring the budget into balance, so that it benefits all Mainers, not just a lucky few at the top of the economic ladder.
“The folks that need a break in this economy are not the highest earners,” said Chenette. “We cannot continue to shift the tax burden away from those most able to pay onto the backs of those least able to pay. We need to hold the line on Question 2 for our students and our property tax payers, and reject any policy that benefits the few at the expense of the many.”