This November, Mainers will have the opportunity to pass a ballot measure that guarantees seniors and people with disabilities can access the services they need to stay in their homes, which is particularly important for the oldest state in the country.

Opponents of the home care referendum have been complaining that the universal home care program is paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy, specifically the top 1.6 percent of individual income earners. Their complaints obfuscate one key fact: The wealthiest have already received three major tax breaks since 2011 and they now pay the lowest overall state and local effective tax rates out of any income group.

We’ve all heard conservatives complain that Maine is one of the “highest taxed” states in the nation. Most of the time, the right doesn’t even bother with facts to support that assertion. When they do, they focus only on the top marginal tax rate, ignoring all the brackets and rates underneath it, and selectively highlight some taxes (like the progressive taxes proposed in the referendum), while ignoring others (like the sales and property taxes that have gone up on working families under Governor Paul LePage). Needless to say, none of this lends itself to an accurate analysis of Maine’s tax code, let alone “apples to apples” comparisons between states. Actual tax researchers look at the overall state and local effective tax rates to make comparisons between states.

For this reason, I recommend looking at the Institute for Tax and Economic Policy’s annual analysis of tax rates in all fifty states. (Their work is respected by Maine Revenue Services, and typically closely conforms to their estimates.) In their comparison, the taxes paid by the median Maine family (i.e households in the middle 20 percent of incomes), look remarkably unremarkable. In Maine, they pay 9.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes. The national average is also 9.4 percent.

Highest taxed state? No. Boring middle of the road? Yes.

What is remarkable about the Maine tax code is that the top one percent of Mainers only pay 7.5 percent of their income in state and local taxes–by far the lowest of any group. Our sales and property taxes are so high (and the wealthy benefit from so many income tax loopholes) that the poorest Mainers (the bottom 20 percent of income earners) actually pay a larger share of their income in state and local taxes (9.4 percent) than the wealthy.

The top one percent pay 7.5 percent, the next wealthiest four percent pay eight percent, and the next wealthiest 15 percent pay nine percent of their overall income in state and local taxes.

“According to ITEP’s Tax Inequality Index,” the report states, “Maine has the 44th most unfair state and local tax system in the country. States with regressive tax structures have negative tax inequality indexes, meaning that incomes are less equal in those states after state and local taxes than before.”

In other words, rather than passing more special tax breaks for the rich, or shying away from ensuring they pay their fair share, we need to make our tax code equitable–which is what the Universal Home Care initiative seeks to do.

This proposal is not anti-rich, or anti-economic development. On my favorite track, “Boss,” on Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s latest joint album Everything is Love, Professor Jay- Z breaks it down this way: “Over here we measure success by how many people are successful next to you/ Here we say you’re broke if everyone is broke except for you.”

Jay-Z, it should be mentioned, does not hide his love of making money. He also lives in a state, New York, in which people at every income level pay more in taxes than we do in Maine. But what concerns Jay-Z is his community. He gets that individual success doesn’t mean anything if you have no one with whom to share it. He gets that you can’t really be rich if everyone around you is poor.

It’s not just that economic development that is particularly focused on giving tax breaks to the wealthy and big corporations isn’t effective. It’s morally wrong. It’s bad for society. It’s even bad for wealthy people. Money simply does not buy happiness. The things that matter far more—love, family, healthy communities—all center on the wellbeing of even the richest among us being intertwined with the lives of those less fortunate.

And just to be clear, wealthy people are not leaving Maine (or any other state) to pay lower taxes elsewhere. A definitive study of tax return and census data (not mere economic theory or modeling), conducted by researchers at Stanford and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, examined thirteen years of migratory patterns of millionaires in all fifty states—over 45 million tax records. The Institute for Tax and Economic Policy summarized the findings this way: “Just 0.3 percent of all millionaires in the country move to lower-tax states in a given year. This has very little effect on states’ overall number of millionaires, and in fact three of the top five states with the highest concentration of millionaires have a millionaires’ tax.”

In other words, Jay-Z isn’t going to leave New York to come to Maine just because the taxes are lower here. In fact, he’d probably tell us to get our act together and make sure we tax the wealthy to provide for seniors and people with disabilities. While we might disagree with Jay-Z on some matters, he’s certainly making more sense to me these days than most people in Augusta.

The preceding originally appeared on, a website and podcast created by progressive group the Maine People’s Alliance.

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