SPEAKING IN FORT Kent, Gov. Paul LePage told an audience his now-familiar tale about the terrible things that will result if the 3 percent surtax on high incomes that voters approved through Question 2 goes into effect. He said that 10 percent of a taxpayer’s entire income will go to the state.

When a man in the audience pointed out that this isn’t how Maine’s progressive income tax works — it would assess, in this case, only 10.15 percent of the amount above $200,000 adjusted income, LePage insisted was on “the full amount.” The governor’s staff said, that, of course, the governor knew the man was right, but simply was focused on his belief that the tax “punishes success.”

There is word for what the governor is doing. It’s “disinformation,” and it’s a standard propaganda technique for one-party regimes and dictatorships, where open dissent against the established order can be very costly.

We don’t yet have the kind of system, but we do have disinformation on a massive and almost bewildering scale, as people who know better continue to distort reality in pursuit of their own agendas. Donald Trump is currently perfecting his use of disinformation, just as LePage has been doing for more than six years.

This was hardly the first time the governor has used disinformation when his most unpopular positions are challenged. After vetoing five bills to expand Medicaid, now at a loss of 1 billion federal dollars and counting, LePage told an audience in Rockland it was really OK; the poorest Mainers not eligible for Medicaid could buy subsidized insurance on the federal exchange.

But of course they couldn’t, even if they had the money. Congress, in passing the Affordable Care Act, never anticipated that states could turn down Medicaid funding.

That quirk was created by Chief Justice John Roberts, who in his decision upholding other aspects of the ACA, somehow reasoned that it was constitutional to require states to offer “traditional” Medicaid, for which most pay half the cost, but unconstitutional to require them to accept expanded funding, which was initially free, and even now costs just 5 percent.

Disinformation can be rebutted and countered, but when it comes from powerful speakers, routinely, it can also be disorienting and confusing – just what the speakers want.

Its effects in Maine are already alarming. Legislative Republicans support LePage’s drive to nullify to 3 percent surtax to fund education, though not his cockeyed plan to do so, particularly raising sales taxes to give the wealthy a break.

Still, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, who generally uses words far more carefully than the governor, has cast doubt on whether voters understood what they were doing in enacting Question 2.

Let’s take a look. Question 2 begins: “Do you want to add a 3% tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000.” The second part says its purpose is to support public education. It’s hard to see what voters could possibly have missed.

The disinformation is becoming equally dense around Question 4, which, after years of inaction by the Legislature, established annual minimum wage increases, now at $9 and reaching $12 an hour by 2020. Opponents have largely accepted the voters’ will here; the contested ground is the “tipped wage credit” restaurant owners used to pay only half the standard minimum, as long as server tips brought hourly earnings up to the minimum.

The “tipped wage” has always been hard to enforce, or justify, and Question 4 phases it out, initially going to $5 an hour and then up to the full wage in seven years. Many restaurant owners have accepted the change, but some are waging their own disinformation campaign, insisting prices will go sky high — even though seven states have no tip credit, and their restaurants are thriving.

LePage joined the fray by announcing he was cutting his tips in half, even though, so far, there’s been little benefit to servers. And the campaign does seem to have created serious misperceptions among servers and customers.

Some seem to think servers are already getting a $12 minimum, nowhere in effect. And a server insisted in an op-ed she’d be hurt by the new law — seeming to believe she’d lose all her tips when the “tipped credit” is phased out.

The law is clear: Servers keep all their tips. It’s the employer who must adjust wages, which is why some are protesting.

The reality of Question 2 and Question 4 is squarely in front of us. With seven weeks to go in the legislative session, we should start debating the hundreds of real issues before us, and stop indulging in disinformation campaigns that, ultimately, change nothing.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 32 years. His first book, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now available. Comment is welcomed at: [email protected]

filed under: