The world of politics is full of breathtaking ironies, predictable posturing and wide influence by narrow interests. Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to reshape Maine’s tax system, and the reactions it is generating, provide a good illustration of all three.

Let’s start with the irony. The LePage plan is remarkably similar to the plan that Democrats pushed through the Legislature five years ago, but is even more far-reaching. Then, Republicans launched a referendum to defeat the Democrats’ plan, calling it a plot to raise taxes and keep working people from getting haircuts. They succeeded in not only killing tax reform but also electing their champions to the Blaine House and legislative leadership.

The LePage plan is also nearly identical to a package developed by a non-partisan group of legislators just two years ago, led by then-Sen. Dick Woodbury, U-Yarmouth, and Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, which LePage did nothing to support.

Fast forward to today, and you have what is best-called a large bowl of steaming, delicious irony soup. Now the same governor elected as part of the anti-tax, anti-government wave of 2010 is proposing — you guessed it — essentially the same bundle of ideas.

To spice the irony, Democrats now are opposed to the plan, even though it provides greater relief to low- and middle-income taxpayers than their own plan did.

For decades, policy analysts, economists and people without an axe to grind have been telling us that Maine’s tax system is in need of an overhaul. Two related flaws are at the core of the problem. One is that we tax too much income and not enough consumption. We also have far too many loopholes that effectively shift the burden of government to whoever is least organized, meaning working people and the middle class.


Taxing income rather than consumption is a bad idea for three reasons. It rewards buying but not earning. It lets tourists off the hook. And, it produces a never-ending roller coaster ride for government whenever there’s a dip in the economy.

LePage’s package isn’t perfect, but it’s got lots of elements that are worthy of a full and open conversation. Everyone will be opposed to or love some part of it, but it works only as a package. His plan includes:

• Reducing state income taxes from 7.95 percent to 5.75 percent.

• Exempting the first $48,000 of income, for a family of four, from those taxes.

• Reducing corporate income taxes from 8.93 percent to 6.75 percent.

• Adding targeted tax reduction provisions for seniors and low-income people.


To pay for it all:

• Sales taxes would be increased from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent.

• Services would be taxed just as goods are now.

• Revenue sharing would be eliminated, over time, and towns would be allowed to collect property taxes from nonprofits and retain more excise tax revenue.

Bold ideas and real change are easy to talk about but hard to implement, mostly because new ideas are easier to kill than support. There’s also the fact that we have a small cottage industry of idea-generators in Maine, but a muscular complex of interests dedicated to the status quo and the destruction of new ideas.

LePage has been leading an Army of No for five years. Now he’s about to find out his isn’t the only one. It turns out there are at least two great Armies of No at work in Maine, operating side by side. Each has at its core a political party, whose main purpose seems to be to attack ideas that come from the other party, even when the ideas are their own.


For an illustration of how that works, see health care reform, which was initially championed by conservative Republicans and then violently opposed by the same Republicans when President Barack Obama expanded their Massachusetts model to a national scale. Now the tables are being reversed on tax reform in Maine.

Just behind the parties are the various interest groups aligned with them. Then the tattered militias of people who instinctively oppose anything associated with government, business, unions, big ideas or complicated things.

These are the forces that produce gridlock, a word that has now become synonymous with government.

So the odds are long against LePage on this one. First, he has to solidify the support of legislative Republicans, who fought valiantly against the very ideas he’s proposing just a few years ago . Then he has to find common ground with Democrats, who already are railing predictably against tax giveaways to the rich and don’t want him to succeed. Then the long line of privileged interest groups. And finally, a skeptical public.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is a partner in the Caron and Egan consulting group, which is active in growing Maine’s next economy. Email at

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