AUGUSTA — Last week, Democrats in the Maine House blocked a public hearing on a proposed 3.8 percent tax increase, which includes a major overhaul to our home health care system and will appear on the November ballot.

Maine people should demand a different result.

Our Legislature has a proud history of promoting open, honest public debate. Every piece of legislation receives a hearing. Every citizen gets the opportunity to tell us how that legislation will help them – or hurt them.

A public hearing also is an opportunity for citizens and legislators to ask questions to better understand what is being proposed. Our entire democratic system benefits from this dialogue. No person or special interest group should ever be able to shut that process down. But that’s what happened here.

The Maine People’s Alliance, backed by billionaire George Soros, gathered enough signatures to put yet another referendum on the ballot this fall. The proposal places a 3.8 percent tax on individuals in Maine making over $128,000. It increases taxes by over $300 million per year, the largest in Maine history, and turns that money over to an unelected, unregulated board to spend on home care.

ALLIANCE FEARS SCRUTINY OF BILL

Ballot initiatives are sent to the Legislature first before they are sent to the people. Among other reasons, this is the best opportunity for a fair, thorough examination of the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal.

But the Maine People’s Alliance is too scared to let that happen. It knows Maine people will have major concerns with the tax proposal. Rather than have that discussion out in the open, the alliance found that most of the Democrats in the House were willing to keep us in the dark on L.D. 1864.

By its very nature, the referendum process favors the supporters pushing the initiative. They don’t mention the negative effects or unintended consequences of their idea when they’re asking Mainers to sign petitions. To make it easier to collect signatures, the Maine People’s Alliance went so far as to misrepresent to the media the size of the tax increase it is proposing.

By contrast, having a public hearing means the public receives a thoughtful evaluation. Nonpartisan professionals, who provide the Legislature with fiscal and policy analysis for every other piece of legislation, review the proposal. The state and local agencies tasked with implementing it also provide information. Tax proposals are always complicated. The Legislature has never seen anything like this one, and that makes their input at a public hearing especially valuable.

For a long time, that’s how the Legislature handled these referendums. From 1981 to 2012, approximately 40 proposals were put forward through the initiative process. Every single one was referred to a committee for a public hearing, regardless of the issue and regardless of which party was in the majority.

Opinions always differ on whether a bill should be enacted. But after a public hearing, we all have a better idea about what the bill does. We have gotten away from that tradition in recent years – something for which both parties are responsible. Now, we are paying for it.

We have spent far too much time in the past two years trying to make sense of legalized marijuana, the 3 percent school tax and ranked-choice voting. Submitting these proposals to a public hearing would have resulted in a more thoughtful, critical review than what they got – which was nothing.

MORE FLAWS THAN JUST A TAX HIKE

So why doesn’t the Maine People’s Alliance want a thoughtful review of its tax proposal?

Could it be because – on top of taking an additional $300 million from Maine people – the unelected board spending our money would be subject to little, if any, oversight?

Or because independent home care providers would be forced to enroll in the state employees union?

Or because of the possibility that the personal health information of thousands of elder and disabled adults would be distributed to private groups without permission?

The Maine People’s Alliance doesn’t want a hearing because it doesn’t want you to know the answers to these questions. It would rather shelve this discussion until just before the election – and then give you answers in 30-second sound bites, funded by a billionaire who doesn’t live, work or pay taxes in Maine.

That’s when you’ll want a public hearing on this bill. But by then, it’ll be too late.


Correction: This commentary was corrected on Wednesday, April 11, at 11:49 a.m. to correct an error regarding who would be subject to the proposed 3.8 percent employment tax.

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