Advocates in Maine blasted Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage after the New York Times reported this weekend that the former governor benefited from Florida tax laws while in the Blaine House and has continued to do so as he seeks to lead Maine once again.
The Times story found that from 2009 to 2015 and from 2018 through the end of the current year, LePage and his wife got property tax exemptions in Florida meant for permanent residents. LePage served as Maine’s governor from 2011-2019 and was mayor of the city of Waterville in Kennebec County before that.
LePage, who famously moved to Florida after leaving office in 2019 only to return in 2020 as he prepared to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, benefited from Florida’s homestead exemption, which is supposed to only be for “primary residences” in the state. During his time as governor of Maine, though, LePage tried to eliminate the state’s homestead exemption in a move that would have prevented over 200,000 people from getting a tax break like the one he received in Florida.
In response to questions from the Portland Press Herald about the Florida tax situation, the LePage campaign said the properties examined by the Times were owned only by the governor’s wife, Ann. The campaign said Ann was a permanent resident of Florida until earlier this year, according to the Press Herald.
However, following that explanation, Maine political observers had additional questions about how that arrangement would work in practice.
The Times report — which was written in part by former Beacon reporter Alyce McFadden — spread quickly through Maine politics, with advocates arguing that story calls into question the former governor’s integrity and commitment to the state.
“By cheating on his taxes, LePage increases the amount the rest of us have to pay,” tweeted Maine-based economist James Myall. “Voters need to see his income tax returns too. When was the last time he filed as a Maine resident?”
“LePage thought so little of the people of Maine that he claimed to be a Florida resident as early as March 2018 — when he was still governor,” Myall added.
House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) also weighed in, writing, “Even for a fraud, this is pretty fraudulent.”
The story on LePage’s tax practices comes as the former governor has reiterated his dislike of progressive taxation — which requires wealthy people to pay their fair share to help fund state services — on the campaign trail. Furthermore, during his time in the Blaine House, he instituted tax changes that primarily benefited the wealthy while costing the state hundreds of millions in much-needed revenue that could have been used for education or health care initiatives.
In addition, LePage’s policies — including his successful effort to eliminate a 3% education surcharge on income over $200,000 — resulted in municipalities raising property taxes on residents to make up for the lost funds. Property taxes often hit low-income people harder than wealthy residents.
In his current run, LePage has made eliminating the state income tax a cornerstone of his campaign — a policy that would further tilt the tax code toward the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class in the state. After the revelations in the Times story, though, Bev Uhlenhake, vice-chair of the Maine Democratic Party, argued that “someone cheating on taxes probably shouldn’t be making decisions about a state’s tax policies.”
Photo: Former Gov. Paul LePage | Beacon