The head of the Maine Republican Party said Monday that party officials are putting the “finishing touches” on two 2016 ballot initiatives and that the details could be made public as early as Tuesday.

However, Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, would not address speculation that the effort to reduce Maine’s income tax won’t focus on full elimination, as originally discussed. The speculation stems from rumors among Republican activists that the party’s push to cut the income tax will focus on lowering the top rate of 7.15 percent to 4 percent.

The eventual elimination of the income tax is a goal championed by Gov. Paul LePage and supported – at least rhetorically – by Maine Republicans. Nonetheless, the party has proven divided on even modestly reducing the income tax, largely because of uncertainty over how to offset the loss of $3 billion in annual revenue. The disagreement was front and center during lawmakers’ attempt to adopt the state’s two-year budget, which incorporated a sweeping tax overhaul submitted by LePage. His plan cut the income tax and partially paid for the reduction by raising the state’s sales tax and expanding it to currently exempt goods and services. Republican lawmakers balked at the proposal, producing a rift between the governor and Senate Republicans that some in the party fear cannot be repaired.

The Legislature ultimately bypassed LePage to pass a two-year budget that included an income tax cut, reducing the top rate from 7.95 percent to 7.15 percent. LePage blasted lawmakers from both parties over the budget deal and vowed to take the income tax elimination plan to the voters. The Maine GOP appeared to support the undertaking, announcing in July that it would take the unusual step of committing party resources and manpower to a pair of ballot initiatives in 2016. One, Bennett said, would attempt to eliminate the income tax over a yet-to-be-determined period of time.

It’s unclear if the party’s ballot bid will abandon elimination in favor of a big cut, but it seems like a possibility. After all, one of the reasons why Republican lawmakers were so supportive of LePage’s constitutional amendment to rid Maine of the income tax was because it had zero chance of clearing the Democratic House of Representatives. There’s a certain comfort in backing a drastic proposal when you know it’s not going to pass.

That safety net disappears when taking such a proposal to the voters. Additionally, the same full-throated support that accompanied the doomed constitutional amendment was noticeably absent when Bennett and the party began talking about the referendum.


Regardless, details of the tax reduction initiative are coming soon and it looks like LePage is ready to start promoting it.

On Monday, the governor’s office announced that LePage will hold a town hall meeting in Farmington on Tuesday. According to the release, the governor will discuss “further reducing the income tax” and “reforming welfare by strengthening the state’s safety net for the most vulnerable; cutting energy costs; and addressing Maine’s high student debt burden.”

Two of those topics – cutting the income tax and changing the welfare system – are the focus of the upcoming ballot initiatives. Take notice, however, of the word “reducing” in the governor’s press release. Conspicuously absent is the word “eliminating.”

Capitol Ticker is a political blog for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

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