Maine small business owners speak in defense of successful referendum to tax the wealthy

At a marathon budget hearing at the State House on Monday, members of the Maine Small Business Coalition waited until late into the evening to testify before the Taxation Committee in support of implementing Question 2, a referendum to increase funding for education by increasing taxes on the wealthy that passed in November. Governor Paul LePage and his legislative allies are attempting to undo the results of the referendum, and instead cut taxes for wealthy Mainers in the state budget.

Sumner Richards, owner of S. Fernald’s Country Store in Damariscotta told the committee that he supported the referendum because he wants the tax code to be fairer.

“Please don’t raise my taxes to give the top 2% a tax cut that they don’t need,” he said. “I pay property taxes on my business and, indirectly through my rent, on the home I live in, as do most of my employees. Like most small business owners, we don’t take home a lot. Certainly not the $200,000 net a year that is affected by this law[…] If you pass these bills, our taxes will go up and the richest will get a tax cut. That is not the kind of Maine we voted for.”

The business owners contrasted their experiences running small companies with the advantages wealthy Mainers already enjoy in the tax code and argued that cutting taxes for the wealthy and forcing new costs on to middle class and poor Mainers is not smart economic policy.

“The legislature has already tried this with a large tax cut in 2011 and yet most of us are poorer and Maine is the only state where childhood hunger has grown,” said Brad Sherwood, owner of Professional Home Projects in Waterville. “Wealthy people [in Maine], many of them retired, already have their needs met and when they find an extra several thousand dollars in their checking account will rarely spend it locally.”

The idea that legislators should respect the will of the voters, especially on an issue that was on the ballot so recently, was also a common refrain.

“I’m here today because I am disturbed by the idea that the people of Maine could collect tens of thousands of signatures to put a policy before the voters; that a majority of Maine voters could vote in favor of that policy; and that then our elected representatives would overturn it,” said August Avantaggio, who owns of Riverside Butcher Company, also in Damariscotta. “So long as we have a system of popular referendums in this state, this legislature needs to respect them.”

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