November 18, 2012

Five things you need to know about the fiscal cliff

Unless it's averted, the manufactured Capitol Hill crisis will have real-world implications for you. Yes, you.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

Today's poll: Fiscal cliff

How concerned are you that you’ll be personally affected by the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’?

A lot


Not Very

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Barack Obama, John Boehner
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President Obama, accompanied by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters at the White House on Friday. More than $600 billion in higher taxes and across-the-board spending cuts will kick in for the coming year Jan. 1 without a deal in Washington to reduce the federal deficit. Maine could realistically expect to lose 6,000 to 10,000 jobs if the spending cuts go through, USM economist Charles Colgan estimated.

2012 File Photo/The Associated Press

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Here is a sampling of potential spending cuts that that could affect Mainers. The dollar figures are the national totals.

Department of Defense, general military programs operations and maintenance: $3.9 billion

U.S. Navy, operations and maintenance (non-exempt): $4.3 billion

U.S. Navy, shipbuilding and conversion: $2.1 billion

U.S. Coast Guard, systemwide: $440 million

U.S. Customs and Border Protection: $813 million

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (operations, research and facilities): $257 million

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: $285 million

Agricultural Disaster Relief Fund: $104 million

Rural Housing Service Rental Assistance Program: $74 million

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children: $543 million

Environmental restoration of former defense sites: $31 million

Special education services: $1 billion

Federal student financial aid: $140 million

U.S. Housing and Urban Development, Rental Assistance programs: $1.5 billion

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Resource Management: $105 million

National Park Service, park operations: $183 million

WASHINGTON - It was a last-second deal to avoid default and spur political leaders to action.

But 13 months later, taxpayers and businesses in Maine and across the country wait as Congress and the White House negotiate about how to avoid going over the dreaded "fiscal cliff."

More than $600 billion worth of higher taxes and across-the-board spending cuts will kick in for the coming year on Jan. 1 without some sort of agreement in Washington on reducing the federal deficit.

Although it's a manufactured crisis, Mainers will face real consequences if the cuts and tax increases take effect.

Nearly every taxpayer will give a bigger chunk of his or her paycheck to the government. Federal programs that support schools, pay for special education and help low-income Mainers heat their homes or feed their families could lose funding. And thousands of jobs in the defense sector -- from shipbuilders to munitions parts suppliers -- plus thousands more in other fields could be affected or even disappear.

"If nothing is done, it would put us back below where we were at the depth of the recession (in Maine) in terms of jobs," said Charles Colgan, an economist at the University of Southern Maine, who believes losses in the range of 6,000 to 10,000 jobs are realistic.

Here are five things Mainers need to know as we head toward the fiscal cliff.


Much of the partisan debate about how to avoid the cliff has focused on whether to increase taxes on families earning in excess of $250,000 and individuals making $200,000 or more -- an income bracket that applies to fewer than 10,000 Mainers.

But the reality is that, unless Congress acts, virtually every family and individual taxpayer will pay more.

The tax rate for every income bracket will rise between 3 and 13 percent and a temporary payroll tax reduction will end, resulting in a 2 percent increase.

Additionally, child tax credits would drop from $1,000 to $500, the capital gains tax rate would jump from 15 percent to 20 percent, and some married couples would go back to paying more as a couple than they would individually, the so-called "marriage penalty."

Overall, Mainers would pay an additional $1.4 billion in taxes next year as several major tax categories increase, according to an analysis conducted this summer by Maine Revenue Services, the tax arm of state government. That's a significant tax increase for a state like Maine.

Mainers' total personal income is estimated at roughly $54 billion, which means the changes in the federal income tax, the payroll tax, the Alternative Minimum Tax and the estate tax would effectively result in a 2.6 percent average reduction in take-home pay statewide.

"So there's no surprise most economists believe if these cuts went through combined with sequestration that it would put the U.S. economy back into recession," said Mike Allen, associate commissioner for tax policy. And, he said, Maine's economy would likely follow suit. "It's too much all at once."

How much more you will pay depends largely on how much make.

A Maine "tax family" -- which is either an individual or a married couple filing jointly -- earning less than roughly $14,250 a year would pay about $262 more a year under the above scenario.

Those earning between $27,300 and $35,200 would see their federal tax bill rise $1,142.

And those with incomes of between $63,000 and $83,800 would pay an additional $2,518, according to the state's estimates.

And Maine's top 1 percent? Those earning in excess of roughly $355,000 would have to shell out another $24,800 next year.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Fiscal cliff

How concerned are you that you’ll be personally affected by the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’?

A lot


Not Very

View Results