Report from the Statehouse: Tax Committee April 23

Nothing’s for Certain Except Taxes and Those Who Hate Them

By Helen Hanlon

The Joint Standing Committee on Taxation was a new venue for me and a new cast of characters. Despite what would seem to be a rather dull topic, the proceedings were highly entertaining – and informative. The Chair is my State Senator, Earle McCormick, who appeared to be very efficient and professional. The Co-Chair is the aptly named Rep. Adam Goode (a very engaging young man, pleasant in every way and the clerk made a point of saying what a total delight he is).

I thought this would be a hotly contested issue with a packed room. Not so – there was no one there, and only two people (including myself) testified. Taxation may not be a glamorous committee but it was still a very interesting day getting to know these Legislators and this Committee.

The Public Hearing started late because of a very late Senate Session. There was some grumbling among the members about a late session the night before and what fools they are to be embroiled in this legislative business (I didn’t say a word…). However, I was intrigued by Rep. Bickford of Auburn, who bears an uncanny resemblance (IMO) to our Governor, Paul LePage (though scaled-down in size and perhaps temperament).

That’s the background scene at the Tax Committee, now onto the bills…

LD409 (An Act to Lower the Individual Income tax Incrementally to Zero)

Introduced by Rep. O’Connor of Berwick, who explained that she’s never seen a tax she liked and is on a one-woman mission to undermine them. Apparently she has already introduced a few other tax-related, as well. She readily admitted that this LD409 was a dead as a doornail but she presented it anyway.

No one testified in favor of LD409.

Testimony Against:

  • LWVME – The League has long been in favor of income tax and was instrumental in implementing the tax in the 1960’s. Our testimony included some historical context, including a quote from a League member from Auburn (Ahem, Rep. Bickford!) who said, the income tax places “the burden where it belongs on those most able to pay.”[i]    NOTE: You can find all our testimony here. 
  • A citizen testified against the bill and encouraged the Committee to look at corporate taxes.
  • Senator Chris Johnson came by later and apologized for not being available to also oppose LD409. (So not really testimony – more drive-by opinion)

For some strange reason I decided to stay for other Bills (none of them on the League’s hit parade this year). A few more folks trickled in. Here’s the synopsis:

Bills about supporting the film industry, and then, LD1287 (An Act to Ensure Tax Expenditures Create High Quality Jobs) brought out the Chamber and small business cadre, along with the Dept. of Labor.

This last bill was of interest because of the recent Portland Press Herald report on Cate Street Capital’s multi-million tax credits related to Maine paper mills. Rep. Bickford noted he’d been on the Committee when this issue first arose but, he said, Maine Legislators aren’t sophisticated lawyers and did the best they could, never expecting such shenanigans. Some members reported hearing from constituents who were appalled at the waste of tax dollars.

I may be wrong, but no one seemed particularly outraged, nor inclined to fix this.

Senator Chris Johnson reported how he’d drafted this Bill months prior to the PPH report. His concern grew out of his own family’s experience with getting the raw end of the deal with employers who take the tax credits and who aren’t accountable to provide good quality jobs. Not, as he put it, jobs we must subsidize. At this point, Rep. Bickford made an outrageous comment about “employees who just aren’t good enough.” There were moments of dead silence in the room before the proceedings resumed.

I was really impressed with a young man (everyone is young to me) from the Maine Center for Economic Policy who testified about the over $30 million routinely given with neither transparency nor accountability (according to the 2014 Comprehensive Evaluation of Maine’s Economic Incentive Programs Report).

And then came the Chamber, Business Associations, etc.

It was after 4pm when I left and I hadn’t planned to stay as long as I did. I learned a lot, though – and was happy to know that Maine people still has a few champions out there…

 

[i] Bangor Daily News, February 19, 1976

 

 

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