The State House budget mayhem goes on, and on, with alarms and leaks to the press, but no deal. That may be true for awhile, though it could change at any moment.

But it’s not too soon to assess what’s happened so far, for this is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It’s rare that a major political party stakes its future on an idea that’s a complete non-starter, yet that’s what Maine Republicans seem determined to do.

Senate Republicans, and Democrats in both House and Senate, made a deal earlier, basically the status quo — not the worst outcome one could imagine. But Ken Fredette, the House Republican leader, objected, and we’ve had daily rounds of sniping among Republicans, with occasional, entirely unconvincing efforts by Gov. Paul LePage to blame everything on the Democrats.

This is a profoundly unnatural event. We expect squabbling among Democrats — it’s in their DNA — but Republicans usually observe, at least in public, Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

And what’s it about? Why can’t all Republicans sign off on a budget that at least does no harm?

Because, we’re told, Republicans shouldn’t support any budget, state or federal, that doesn’t cut income taxes in a way that benefits the wealthiest citizens.

It’s all there, starkly, in a June 1 memo from Mike Allen, deputy finance commissioner and the state’s top tax analyst. Allen definitely works for the governor, but he’s also a straight shooter.

This is his take on Fredette’s plan, which reduces the top income tax rate from 7.95 percent to 6.2 percent by 2019: “The distributional analysis is a little better than before, but still heavily weighted to the top end.” He adds, “We can still fix all this, just let us know if you want us to try.”

But Fredette doesn’t want a different distribution. That’s the whole point — lowering taxes on the top 1 percent, and making up the balance through sales and property tax increases.

Again, the question is why? By this time, people are pretty well aware that, since the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s across-the-board 25 percent cut in federal rates, the rich have done very, very well and everyone else is still looking for a pay raise.

There are several reasons for rising income inequality — the decline of unions, structural economic changes, and the distinctive American response to globalization among them. But the most obvious, and probably largest, factor is redistribution of the tax burden away from those most able to pay and onto those least able to pay.

And Republicans say we must do more of it.

When the Reagan tax cuts were approved, it could be argued that the theory of big tax cuts leading to big economic gains hadn’t been tested. It’s now been tested thoroughly. The laboratories of democracy are the states, and the results are crystal clear.

In Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana, Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, and, especially, Sam Brownback’s Kansas, the results of income tax cuts have ranged from disappointing to disastrous. In Kansas, things are so bad one school superintendent offered to resign so his salary could be used to stem hemorrhaging in classroom budgets.

It hasn’t worked well in Maine, either, where $500 million in cuts phased in from 2011-14 left us with an economy lagging both New England and the nation.

By contrast, states like California and Minnesota that raised income taxes are enjoying budget surpluses, with better-than-average job growth. And the public agrees. Higher taxes for the rich have never polled so well.

When a political party confronts clear evidence its central premise is wrong, it’s unlikely to change course quickly. Its first instinct is to double down.

That’s the message surrounding the constitutional amendment to abolish the income tax just rejected by Maine lawmakers. Republicans can’t agree on cutting income taxes now, so why not throw the whole thing to the voters? That’s also not a prescription for good government.

It’s not that Democrats have done well, except not to interfere in the Republican meltdown. They’ve given up on their signature issue of expanding Medicaid, even though it would provide health care for up to 100,000 Mainers — for free, as far as the state budget goes, and indirectly improving life for all of us through better public health.

I predict there will be no state government shutdown. No one gains, and Republicans will be especially big losers. But they’re hardly out of the woods. Whatever we see over the next two week, the implosion of a once-great political party could be part of the script.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 30 years. Comment is welcomed at [email protected]

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