We have to hand it to Gov. Paul LePage. He may not always be right about the facts, but he tells you what he thinks.
A startling moment of candor took place in Portland last week, as the governor addressed the business community at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Portland.
Asked about the two-year state budget, which must be finalized in seven weeks to avoid a government shutdown, the governor said, “As we sit right now, there’s no budget. There’s an $850 million hole.”
In that sentence LePage acknowledged that his own budget proposal, which pays for income tax cuts for the wealthy on the backs of local property taxpayers is not a serious solution to the state’s problems. Released in January, his budget has been the subject of public hearings in the Legislature, where virtually no one outside the administration offered any support. The governor’s comment indicates that he considers his plan as a nonstarter and all that’s left is a hole.
That doesn’t mean, however, that LePage is interested in any of the alternative approaches that have been floated, particularly the Gang of 11’s nonpartisan tax reform proposal, which would do some things that should be attractive to the him.
It eliminates the inheritance tax and cuts the top income tax rate in half. The state would balance the budget by raising and expanding the sales tax, softening the blow to state residents by offering rebates and property tax relief.
LePage stepped on any notion that he could get behind such an effort, and, if he can’t support a plan that would halve the tax rate, it’s hard to see him hopping on board any of the other proposals.
The tax fairness bill sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, for example, would raise taxes on high earners who pay a lower percentage of their income than the state average on all state taxes, and provide credits for lower income Mainers who pay above the state average.
A system like that would raise enough new revenue to close about half the budget gap.
With the governor showing no sign of trying to find a budget proposal that could pass, the pressure is on for 101 Democrats and Republicans in the House and 23 in the Senate to work together and enact a budget without him, enough to override his veto, if necessary.
A final plan, maybe one of the those already presented or a new one built from parts, should reflect two core values:
* The combined property, sales and income taxes paid by Maine residents should be considered when determining tax fairness.
* The tax code should be modernized so visitors and part-time residents, who enjoy the benefits of Maine’s resources and public infrastructure, are being asked to help support it.
The next few weeks will show who the constructive problem solvers in Augusta are.
Don’t expect to see the governor in that group. He’s shown that he’s not interested in compromise, and he usually speaks his mind.