Gov. LePage fears referendum could undo his tax breaks for the wealthy

Gov. LePage fears referendum could undo his tax breaks for the wealthy

In his weekly radio address this week, Maine Governor Paul LePage attacked all five of the citizen initiatives on the ballot this November, but the Stand Up for Students initiative (which would place a 3% tax surcharge on incomes over $200,000 a year to fund local education) was at the top of his list.

The wealthy are “already paying their fair share of taxes,” claimed LePage, and “the Maine education system has plenty of money.”

These are similar to attacks LePage has made on the initiative in previous public statements, including his speech before the Maine Republican State Convention, when he declared that the education and tax referendum was “even worse than the minimum wage bill, even more dramatic and draconian.”

LePage’s angry opposition may be due in part to the threat the referendum poses to his legacy of large tax cuts for wealthy Mainers, who currently pay a lower rate of overall taxes than the poor and middle class.

One of the most significant policies the governor passed to this end was the 2011 budget, which included the largest tax cut in Maine’s history and which predominately benefited Maine’s wealthiest residents.

The Stand Up for Students initiative wouldn’t fully reverse LePage’s redistribution of income toward the top, but it would begin to chip away at Maine’s tax inequality. If the referendum passes, Mainers earning more than $200,000 (the top 2% of income earners) will pay a surcharge of $30 for every $1,000 they earn above $200,000. This is projected to generate $157 million in additional state aid to schools in the first year it goes into effect.

“That kind of money is game-changing for students,” said Ciara Hargrove, a teacher in Waterville who helped gather signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. “It means more resources to help kids falling behind, more support programs like Alternative Education and behavior programs, more resources in the classroom like current textbooks and instruments and supplies in our music and art classes, and a greater variety of classes to support the individual interests and learning styles of every student.”

The proposal to fund education by requiring the wealthiest to pay a more equal share of taxes could also undermine LePage’s plans to further reduce the income tax rates for wealthy individuals as part of a ballot initiative he has proposed. The Republican Party failed to gather enough signatures to place the measure on this year’s ballot but may try again in 2017.

Public opinion polls in Maine have shown high levels of support for making the state’s tax system more fair by increasing rates for high income earners, as well as plurality support for cancelling LePage’s tax cuts completely.

Photo via Andi Parkinson.

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