Is Gov. LePage lying about taxes, or just ignorant?

Is Gov. LePage lying about taxes, or just ignorant?

This Monday, while Governor LePage was confidently and completely mischaracterizing how the surcharge on incomes above $200,000 per year mandated by 2016’s Question 2 referendum would impact the wealthiest in the state, I was sitting in the council chambers at Auburn City Hall, grappling with a municipal and school budget in which local taxpayers may very well end up paying for his ignorance.

The referendum, passed into law by voters in 2016, fully funds the mandated state commitment to provide towns and cities with 55% of the cost of educating their students by placing a 3% surcharge on any income earned in excess of $200,000 a year. The plain language of the law, which has been publicly discussed for nearly a year now, states that only income earned after hitting that $200,000 threshold would be subject to the charge; so if someone earned exactly $200,001 in a year, only the last dollar would see increased taxation.

Governor LePage, however, argued emphatically with a town hall audience in Fort Kent that the new law —which he is committed to striking down and is not included in his state budget proposal— would tax the entire income of high earners at that new rate, demonstrating either a bald faced lie or a misstatement created by a complete ignorance of the subject about which he was speaking.

Given those two unsavory options, it is perhaps more distressing to imagine that the reason LePage left the school funding provision out of his budget was due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the law, since municipalities are now scrambling to fund their programs because the Governor’s proposed state budget not only fails to implement Question 2, but continues to underfund the state’s mandated commitment to hit the 55% funding threshold for our schools. In Auburn alone, despite maintaining a proposed school budget that keeps new expenditures within a percentage point of the rate of inflation, the tax shift to property taxpayers would be nearly three times larger, with a mill rate increase of over 6% on the education side.

The idea that such an unsustainable cost shift has been laid on property taxpayers because of sheer ignorance is, frankly, a terrifying notion.

When local budgets get squeezed like this, battle lines are often drawn between the needs of our children and elderly property owners who live on fixed incomes. Faced with a no-win scenario of raising taxes and cutting services, fundamental trust in government begins to break down.

But Mainers recognized that pitting students against property taxpayers was a false battle when they voted to approve Question 2 last year, and while Governor LePage has continually—and ironically— argued that voters didn’t know what they were voting for, it is clear that on this issue it that it’s the Governor, himself, who needs to do his homework.

About author

Grady Burns
Grady Burns 43 posts

Grady Burns is an activist on issues involving young Mainers. He serves on the Auburn City Council and is president of the Maine Young Democrats.

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