For the past few months, I, along with my colleagues on the state’s budget writing committee, have been examining Gov. LePage’s $6.5 billion budget. As you may remember from my previous column, the Appropriations Committee has held numerous public hearings where we heard from hundreds of people--from economists to municipal officials and non-profit leaders. Additionally, I have held a number of community forums in Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Biddeford, and Hollis to hear what you were thinking about the governor’s recommended changes to the tax code. I commend Gov. Lepage for joining the much-needed conversation on tax reform--and I agree with him that our archaic tax code is one of the things holding Maine back. But, after closer analysis of the LePage plan--and after hearing from the public, it has become clear that his priorities are out of step with the needs of Maine people.
Last week, Democrats released the “Better Deal for Maine” budget, a counterproposal to Gov. LePage’s plan.
In it, we invest in middle-class economics: our plan allows more Mainers to keep more of their hard-earned money. It lowers property taxes for all Maine homeowners. And, rather than shifting the tax burden on to our communities, as proposed by Gov.LePage, our plan asks non-residents, the top income-earners, and corporations to pay their fair share.
Here’s how the Better Deal for Maine stacks up to the LePage plan:
The Better Deal does not raise the sales tax rate. While the Better Deal adopts the sales tax broadening plan as proposed by the governor, the Better Deal keeps the sales tax rate at 5.5%--unlike the LePage plan that raises the sales tax to 6.5%.
The Better Deal cuts property taxes for all Maine homeowners. The LePage plan eliminates the Homestead Exemption for everyone--except those over the age of 65. The Better Deal doubles the Homestead Exemption to $20,000 for all Maine homeowners--regardless of age.
This means, for folks living in Saco or in Biddeford where the mill rates are comparable, a homeowner will see a property tax cut of about $380 compared to $0 as proposed under the LePage plan. For folks who live elsewhere, with an average mill rate of 15, they will see a property tax cut of $300--again, compared to $0 under the LePage plan.
Additionally, the Better Deal increases the Property Tax Fairness Credit--up to $1,500 per qualifying homeowner.
Together, these property tax measures will save Maine residents $120 million per year.
The Better Deal cuts income taxes. While the LePage plan favors top income earners by giving 50% of his tax cut to only the top 10% wage earners (individuals with taxable income more than $134,000), the Better Deal directs 98% of income tax breaks to the bottom 95%.
The Better Deal does not tax non-profits. The governor creates a new tax on non-profits.
The Better Deal invests in Maine's future. It invests an additional $20 million more dollars per year in K-12 local schools, getting the state two percentage points closer to the voter-mandated 55% goal.
Finally, the Better Deal is fiscally responsible. It’s fully paid for now and into the future. The LePage plan is not paid for and actually creates a budget hole of $300 million.
In order for Maine to be a place of prosperity and opportunity, then that work starts with the Better Deal for Maine. This is a plan that should garner the support of Democrats, Republicans and unenrolleds alike because it’s a plan that reflects our values and our priorities. It charts out our course for success--for today and in to the future. It gives young Mainers a reason to stay here and others a reason to make Maine their home.
I encourage you to read more about our plan at http://betterdeal.me/
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