The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Maine have made clear the sharp and dangerous inequities in our state.

In Maine, “our top income tax rate kicks in at just $51,700 for an individual or $103,400 for married joint filers. That means that under our current tax code, a middle-class family pays the same top rate as a CEO with income of $300,000 or $1 million or even more,” Malory Shaughnessy writes. William Potter/Shutterstock.com

While the wealthiest among us have continued to prosper, the sick, the vulnerable, low-income Mainers and people of color have struggled.

Inequality has gotten worse and though Maine will benefit greatly from the support from Washington and the Biden administration, the systemic problems with the way the state raises revenues and the competing priorities we have will continue.

Even before the pandemic, years of underinvestment left our direct care and clinical workforce underpaid, short-staffed and unable to meet the needs of our most vulnerable residents. We have all heard stories of children and adults with mental health needs who find themselves stuck in emergency rooms, left on waitlists or propelled into crisis and involvement with the correctional system – as thousands of hours of necessary care go undelivered.

These waitlists and unmet needs are tied directly to underfunding by the state. Inadequate payments to state-contracted care workers have made it harder to attract the workforce we need to care for our family members and neighbors in our communities.

The pandemic has only exacerbated this situation. We’ve all seen the articles and surveys about the increasing levels of anxiety across our country, the increasing use of alcohol and other substances, the escalating levels of overdoses and youth suicide. Experience shows us that these impacts from the pandemic will continue to ripple through our communities long after the world returns to some type of new normal.

The pandemic downturn has revealed the limitations of our inadequate, inequitable tax code. Our tax code is not built to ensure prosperity for all Mainers. Tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy have left the state consistently unable to adequately fund schools, communities and social services and left other priorities competing against each other for funding.

Creating a more equitable tax code will ensure all Mainers are paying their fair share, and will secure the resources necessary to fund Maine’s pandemic recovery.

Until Maine makes its tax code more equitable and raises the revenue it needs, we will continue to lag in providing the critical care services Mainers need. By ensuring everyone pays their fair share, we can invest in the services that make Maine a great place to live and thrive for all people, including those facing substance use or mental health challenges, and their families.

Raising taxes on the highest incomes will go a long way toward addressing economic inequality by securing the revenue we need to make investments that allow all people and communities to thrive – not just those with the largest bank accounts.

Unfortunately, today, Maine’s income tax treats millionaires the same way it treats middle-class families. Our top income tax rate kicks in at just $51,700 for an individual or $103,400 for married joint filers. That means that under our current tax code, a middle-class family pays the same top rate as a CEO with income of $300,000 or $1 million or even more.

A strong, progressive income tax is the best way to begin tackling inequality and to raise the revenue we need to make big investments in Maine’s people and communities.

We should reverse course from the LePage-era tax cuts, which left most Mainers holding the bill while income and wealth inequality got worse. They would provide resources necessary to start regaining ground after years of underfunding for schools, communities and essential services.

We need a tax system that is fair and helps to spread prosperity beyond the wealthiest people and businesses in the state.


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