August 9, 2012

Truth Test: Dems' attack on state senators gets facts mostly correct

But they omit information that's key in understanding income tax changes the GOP pushed through.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

The Maine Democratic Party and the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee released five variations of an ad on cable television and online last week, criticizing five Republican state senators for rubber-stamping the "agenda" of Gov. Paul LePage.

Sens. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls, Nichi Farnham of Bangor, Tom Martin of Benton, Chris Rector of Thomaston and Lois Snowe-Mello of Poland did vote overwhelmingly for the agenda, as defined in the ads.

When the Democrats launch into the effect of that agenda, they get the facts mostly right, but they leave out information that's crucial to understanding income tax changes that Republicans pushed through last year.

According to the ads, Mason and Snowe-Mello have a "100% LePage voting record." Farnham, Rector and Martin are pegged at 92 percent.

Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said the party based senators' adherence to "LePage's agenda" on the legislators' roll call votes on 13 bills that LePage sent to the Legislature in 2011 and 2012. Those are the only votes factoring into the records.

Reinholt said there was no more objective way to quantify "LePage's agenda" than counting only bills he submitted.

The Democrats erred in calculating one senator's score.

The spreadsheet of votes that Reinholt provided shows Martin should have been at 100 percent. He voted on 12 of 13 of the bills the party examined, abstaining on the other. The party accidentally counted the abstention as a vote against LePage, Reinholt said.

1. 'TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH'

This is a reference in the ad to L.D. 1043, the state's $6 billion biennial budget, which got some Democratic support.

Within it were changes to Maine's income tax structure. On average, data from Maine Revenue Services say Mainers got a 10.8 percent income tax cut. The state's top income tax bracket was reduced from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent. Those paying 4.5 percent and 7 percent were moved to 6.5 percent.

Lawmakers also moved people who were paying a 2 percent income-tax rate to zero percent, which, along with a change in the personal exemption amount, eliminated income tax liability for about 70,000 Mainers, said Michael Allen, Maine Revenue Services' associate commissioner for tax policy.

Maine's top 10 percent of earners, making about $118,000 a year or more, will pay nearly $68 million less in income taxes in the 2013 tax year than they did in previous years. But they will have more than 57 percent of the tax liability in 2013, the data shows. They had less than 56 percent of the tax liability before the law changed.

Taxpayers in the bottom 90 percent will bear less than 43 percent of the tax liability, down from just over 44 percent.

The average 10-percenter got an 8.4 percent cut, less than the state average. So despite Democrats' assertions of cuts for the rich, Maine's income tax system is more progressive because of the changes.

VERDICT: Maine's Top 10 percent now pay less in taxes, so there were technically "tax cuts for the rich." But that's in dollar amounts only, as 10-percenters will shoulder a higher percentage of the state's reduced income tax burder. The rest will shoulder less. That's important, and it's left out of the analysis.

WE RATE THIS STATEMENT HALF-TRUE.

 

2. 'CUT HEALTH CARE (INSURANCE COMPANIES MAKE MILLIONS)'

The two bills cited, L.D. 1333 and L.D. 1746, drastically changed health care in Maine.

L.D. 1333 changed health insurance for about 40,000 Mainers, who buy insurance independently or through employers with 50 employees or less.

It allowed companies from every New England state but Vermont to sell health insurance in Maine and gave them more freedom to charge policyholders based on age.

(Continued on page 2)

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