The state tax and budget proposal released Friday by House and Senate Republican leaders (if a single page of bullet points can really be called a proposal) reveals something startling about their approach to governance: Apparently they’re just winging it.

The tax plan was released in a haphazard way. First, a version was leaked to Sun Journal reporter Scott Thistle on Thursday. Then, presumably after a hasty consultation with the governor’s office, a modified version was released publicly Friday alongside an impromptu news conference.

The plan itself is even more haphazard. Unlike the governor’s proposal or the Better Deal plan released by legislative Democrats, the Republicans’ proposal has no breakdown of how Mainers of different income levels will be affected or any sense of how much its provisions cost and how they will be paid for.

It even contains some glaring mistakes. In the first bullet point of the plan, for instance, the income tax brackets are labeled as “AGI” or adjusted gross income. They’re actually based on “taxable income” (which takes into account things like the standard deduction and personal exemption).

That may seem like a small mistake, but the fact that something so obviously and prominently wrong slipped through says volumes about the lack of vetting of the document.

Part of the reason why the plan is so slipshod may be the difficult reality Republicans face. Normally, they wouldn’t have to put forward a separate plan, and could rely on the governor as the standard-bearer for their vision for the budget.

Unfortunately for them, Gov. LePage’s own budget plan has cratered. Virtually no legislators on either side of the aisle have endorsed his plan for income and estate tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy, paid for with increases to sales taxes and property taxes primarily hitting poor and middle-class Mainers.

His plan also contains unpopular cuts to education, prescription drugs for seniors and public assistance for asylum seekers.

Even a statewide town hall tour by LePage hawking his budget proposal and his threats to campaign against Republican legislators who don’t get in line don’t seem to have won any converts to his plan.

Stymied in the Legislature, lately LePage seems to be focused more on his quixotic plan for a constitutional amendment to eliminate Maine’s income tax, which, like many of his budget proposals past the first two years, he has no plan to pay for.

So that’s why Republicans had to put forward their own proposal. Unfortunately, they seem to have learned little from LePage’s poor policy example.

While their plan would cut less from municipal revenue sharing than the governor’s proposal and would not increase certain sales taxes, it focuses even more of its income tax cuts on the wealthy, and – unlike even LePage’s proposal – does nothing to increase property tax relief under the homestead exemption or the Property Tax Fairness Credit.

The Republican plan keeps LePage’s corporate tax cut and even his estate tax cut, which would benefit only a few dozen of the absolute wealthiest families in the state.

At first look, it also appears that the tax cuts in the Republican plan would cost more than the new revenue brought in by the tax increases called for in the plan (including an increase in the sales tax on meals and lodging to 9 percent). So additional immediate cuts – likely to education and health care programs already whittled to the bone – would be required.

What makes the Republican plan look even worse is the obvious comparison it invites to the Better Deal plan released by legislative Democrats in April.

Responding to the same vacuum of leadership, Democrats put forward a proposal that cuts taxes for middle-class and poor Mainers far more than LePage’s plan and is fully paid for by asking the wealthiest individuals and corporations to finally pay closer to their fair share. It also invests more in education and local services, something the Republican plan doesn’t even begin to address.

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram editorial board called the Democratic plan “the right response to LePage,” and the editorial board of the Bangor Daily News called it “a measurably better alternative.” It’s been positively received at town halls across Maine and seems to have replaced the governor’s proposal as the center of gravity in budget negotiations.

Despite not being in the driver’s seat after the results of the last election, Democrats clearly are still committed to doing the hard work of governance in Augusta. Republicans should join them, starting with a more serious, more complete and more reasonable budget proposal.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping


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