Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

Governor LePage’s plan to raise and broaden sales taxes has been likened to a Democratic initiative vetoed by Mainers back in 2010, in the same election whereby they chose LePage the first time around. If he actually forgot that, well, so did I.

He defends any similarity by distinguishing that his plan also calls for an eventual elimination of income taxes. His new Conservative apple isn’t a old Democratic orange, no way.

Like many ideas, his ideal of increased sales taxes replacing income taxes altogether is initially appealing. LePage acknowledges that Mainers work hard for their money — those that aren’t bilking their friends and neighbors by milking the welfare system. Therefore, workers should keep those earnings, safe from contributing to the general welfare of all. Those who don’t actually work so hard for their income stream, ditto. Government’s addiction to mindless spending is always rifling your pockets. Politicians will think up ways to spend whatever they can get, just for sheer sport. One’s income shouldn’t be prey to that outcome.

As with most viewpoints, there is some truth in that. Maybe a lot of truth. The larger truth is that Maine hasn’t sufficient wealth to compete with what other states provide to create growth by attracting business and increasing population to create taxable wealth. Maine needs both a chicken and an egg, simultaneously.

Part of necessary attractiveness might be the lure of having no state income tax. America didn’t always have income taxes, and, ideologically, America was always better back when government wasn’t so big. That is a story line that remains appealing to all who hate paying taxes. Government is obtrusive enough, on any level, without the added indignity of having to finance it or those we have so little choice in selecting to officiate it. The idea of keeping what one earns immediately seems a good thing. There will still be taxes, as surely as you can’t take material wealth into the next life, but how could it not be better if you were to determine how much you pay? You, not the government.

Sales taxes are taxes you self impose each time you choose to make a purchase. The more you choose to acquire the more taxes you pay. Those that choose to have the most pay the most. The amount of taxes you pay is totally up to your lifestyle decisions. Seems more than fair.

So, who wouldn’t prefer more of that, especially if direct taxes on income ended? Why hasn’t this always been the only way?

Those that don’t pay income taxes, of course, gain no benefit. Their fixed income would instead pay more in goods and services, even those that are essential. Collaterally, property taxes, heating fuel and gasoline costs will likely increase.

The inconvenient truth is that sales taxes are a regressive form of taxation while income taxes are a progressive means of financing the general good, the welfare of everyone.

The fairness of any taxation rests on one’s ability to pay. Progressive taxes account for that. Sales taxes don’t care if you have no wages, minimum wages, a living wage, or obscene wealth acquired here or from away.

Taking a closer look, LePage’s economic plan works best for those of affluence, not those that really work hard or really need a tax break. His notion of tax fairness is similar to his take on the minimum wage.

First term Gov. LePage vetoed legislation increasing the state’s minimum to $9 per hour by 2016. Debating for his second term, he conceded that a living wage should be $20 per hour, that “was enough,” though later determining that $100,000 in income was “not that rich,” in rationalizing cutting taxes on the 16 percent of Mainers who make six figures while Maine’s per capita income is $26,000. Maine’s Dept of Labor places a living wage somewhere close to $15, or 22 bucks if a worker with two dependents. Maine’s minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, needing serious correction if a desired “work ethic” is to be ethical.

Bringing the minimum wage to a living level may be a difficult political pill to swallow, but one progressive economists clearly encourage. Those in opposition need to listen to a rising majority of voters, left and right, that agree.

LePage’s rags to riches obstructionism isn’t completely baffling. Many Mainers have worked a very long time to incrementally arrive at something even close to a living wage. Without their wages being hiked proportionately, some will see progressive change as a pay cut for themselves, suddenly finding their paychecks only marginally above the same wage as anyone walking through the door.

Given ongoing political deadlock, and gubernatorial opposition, legislative hiking of the minimum wage doesn’t bode well. Progressive politics, on any issue, is finding people’s referendums, more and more, an effective end run. In doing that, voters need to embrace a solidarity that politicians have failed to achieve. What turned marriageequality opposition around wasn’t just the persistence of those that were right-minded, but the winning of the hearts of those opposed in order to change their minds.


Gary Anderson lives in Bath.

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