Going from boat-builder to boat-buyer opened my eyes to the issue of tax fairness, which Democrats in Augusta now have an opportunity to address, by restoring our tax code so the wealthy pay their fair share.

Throughout my life, I’ve made a living in a wide variety of ways: pruning and removing trees in Portland, building boats at a small composite shop in Bath and, most recently, largely by collecting dividends from a sizable amount of wealth. As you may have guessed, something drastic happened in my career path: I married into the Rockefeller family.

When my wife and I married, and the first tax returns came back from our accountant, I found that my effective tax rate was slashed almost in half compared to the payroll checks I’d received as a laborer. This confirmed what I had suspected for years: Our representatives prioritize their wealthiest donors, and as a result, our tax code is disturbingly unjust.

And it’s become even worse. This was before a series of then-Gov. Paul LePage’s tax cuts for the wealthy, which alone will result in a budget shortfall of $864 million over the next two years, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy. Because the wealthy, by definition, can already afford to live whatever lifestyle they choose, my educated guess is that most of that money is sitting in bank accounts. The wealthy, myself included, don’t need any more tax cuts, and we don’t need to keep the cuts we benefit from already.

One of several opportunities to restore fairness to our budget is L.D. 420, a bill to close the estate tax loophole for multimillion-dollar estates, which is more than five times larger today than it was in 2011. Back then, my now-late father-in-law, Dr. Richard Rockefeller, argued, unsuccessfully, for keeping it intact:

“The first reason I support keeping the estate tax is a personal one and has to do with my own children and grandchildren. I care about their inheritance, of course, but I don’t look upon that inheritance as a purely material thing. The quality of the world they grow up in will contribute as much or more to their well-being as any amount of money and possessions that I could bequeath. That is to say: If the world I leave them is one of gated communities and growing inequality, downward mobility for the middle class, a degraded environment and a rotting social and physical infrastructure, then their inheritance will be a shabby one, no matter how much money they get.”


He was right to be concerned. Because of the aforementioned shortfall, Republicans underfunded education, revenue sharing for towns and cities, Medicaid and other critical services for folks who needed them.

Many Democrats seem perpetually afraid of being labeled “tax and spend liberals,” but fear leads to bad decisions. Democrats control every branch of the state government and are passing some good bills, but at the same time they are trying to appeal to moderates and fiscal conservatives by treating tax cuts for the wealthy as if they were as beneficial and popular as tax cuts for the poor and middle class. As a result, they are pleasing nobody by actually neglecting the conservative principle of paying for stuff, while at the same continuing to underfund the programs they all know are important.

Support for tax fairness is overwhelming, including from about half of Republican voters, according to a recent Lake Research Partners poll. In 2018, as always when Democrats win, turnout was very high. Many Mainers who believed that elections don’t matter were persuaded to vote for them when the differences between Democrats and Republicans became too clear to ignore. And now, with all these new voters potentially starting a new habit of voting for them every year, Democrats are on the verge of a terrible mistake.

Our leadership should see rolling back all of these tax cuts for wealthy people as an opportunity to draw a clear distinction between themselves and Republicans, and to show us that when they are in charge, all Mainers are represented, not just millionaires. But there is little time before they vote, so please contact your representatives, including Gov. Mills, and let them know that everyone should pay their fair share.

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