The world of politics is full of breathtaking ironies, predictable posturing and wide influence by narrow interests. Gov. LePage’s plan to reshape Maine’s tax system and the reactions it is generating provide a good illustration of all three.

Let’s start with the irony. The LePage plan is remarkably similar to the plan that Democrats pushed through the Legislature five years ago, but even more far-reaching. Then Republicans launched a referendum to defeat the Democrats’ plan, calling it a plot to raise taxes and keep working people from getting haircuts. They succeeded in not only killing tax reform but also electing their champions to the Blaine House and legislative leadership.

The LePage plan is also nearly identical to a package developed just two years ago by a nonpartisan group of legislators led by Augusta Republican Sen. Roger Katz and then-Sen. Dick Woodbury, a Yarmouth independent – a proposal that LePage did nothing to support.

Fast forward to today, and you have what is best called a large bowl of steaming, delicious irony soup. Now the same governor elected as part of the anti-tax, anti-government wave of 2010 is proposing – you guessed it – essentially the same bundle of ideas.

To spice the irony, Democrats are now opposed to the plan, even though it provides greater relief to low- and middle-income taxpayers than their own.

For decades, policy analysts, economists and people without an ax to grind have been telling us that Maine’s tax system is in need of an overhaul. At the core of the problem are two related flaws. One is that we tax too much income and not enough consumption. We also have far too many loopholes that effectively shift the burden of government to whoever is least organized, meaning working people and the middle class.

Taxing income rather than consumption is a bad idea for three reasons. It rewards buying but not earning. It lets tourists off the hook. And it produces a never-ending roller-coaster ride for government whenever there’s a dip in the economy.

LePage’s package isn’t perfect, but it’s got lots of elements that are worthy of a full and open conversation. Everyone will be opposed to or love some part of it, but it works only as a package. His plan calls for:

 Reducing state income taxes from 7.95 percent to 5.75 percent.

 Exempting the first $48,000 of income, for a family of four, from those taxes.

 Reducing corporate income taxes from 8.93 percent to 6.75 percent.

Adding targeted tax-reduction provisions for seniors and low-income people.

To pay for it all:

 Sales taxes would be increased from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent,

 Services would be taxed just as goods are now.

 Revenue-sharing would be eliminated over time, and towns and cities would be allowed to collect property taxes from nonprofits and retain more excise tax revenue.

Bold ideas and real change are easy to talk about but hard to implement, mostly because new ideas are easier to kill than support. There’s also the fact that we have a small cottage industry of idea-generators in Maine, but a muscular complex of interests dedicated to the status quo and the destruction of new ideas.

Paul LePage has been leading an “Army of No” for five years. Now he’s about to find out that his isn’t the only one. It turns out there are at least two great “Armies of No” at work in Maine, operating side by side. Each has at its core a political party whose main purpose seems to be to attack ideas that come from the other party, even when the ideas are their own.

For an illustration of how that works, see health care reform, which was initially championed by conservative Republicans and then violently opposed by the same Republicans when President Obama expanded their Massachusetts model to a national scale. Now the tables are being reversed on tax reform in Maine.

Just behind the parties are the various interest groups aligned with them. Then the tattered militias of people who instinctively oppose anything associated with government, business, unions, big ideas or complicated things.

These are the forces that produce gridlock, a word that has now become synonymous with government.

So the odds are long against LePage on this one. First, he has to solidify the support of legislative Republicans, who fought valiantly against the very ideas he’s proposing just a few years ago. Then he has to find common ground with Democrats, who are already predictably railing against tax giveaways to the rich and don’t want him to succeed. Then the long line of privileged interest groups. And, finally, a skeptical public.

Alan Caron is a partner in the strategic consulting firm of Caron and Egan. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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