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.

L.D. 1746 closed the Department of Health and Human Services' projected budget gap.

It cut low-income parents and 19- and 20-year-olds from MaineCare and ended prescription drug benefits for some elderly people.

Only L.D. 1746 was a governor's bill. It was one of the closest party-line wins for LePage. It passed the Senate 19-14, with two Democratic senators not voting.

VERDICT: If the Democrats got anyhing absolutely right, it was this.The scope of health care changed and Maine was opened Tto a larger health insurance market. That can't be disputed.

WE RATE THIS STATEMENT TRUE.

 

3. JOBS FOR MAINE

The ad says Maine is "one of the five worst states for job growth in the country," citing a November 2011 Forbes magazine report, "The Best States for Business."

But the magazine never looked at "job growth," per se. The magazine ranked Maine last in a review of the state's standing in six categories: costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life.

Despite that, the Democrats have backing for the claim.

A March report by the liberal-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy used Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers to say that in 2011, Maine was fifth-worst for job growth in the country, losing 1,300 jobs.

Reinholt said the Forbes study was cited for easier searchability and to give viewers an overall picture of Maine's economy.

VERDICT: The only problem here is that the ad cites a source that doesn't prove the assertion. While that's shoddy, Democrats' backing for this claim is good, and that's most important.

WE RATE THIS STATEMENT TRUE.

 

Overall, we find the points of fact in the ad to be mostly well represented.

But the income tax claim is a problem, as it ignores tax reductions that leave the top 10 percent of earners eating a larger piece of Maine's income tax pie while 90-percenters see a percentage cut.

The Democrats are on the money with the health care claim, but could have been clearer on the "jobs" portion. We'll let you evaluate the methodology used to calculate the LePage agenda and senators' records.

OVERALL, WE RATE THIS ADD AS MOSTLY TRUE.

 

Staff Writer Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

 

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