Way back during the 2012 presidential campaign, in the middle of a Republican primary debate, moderator Bret Baier asked the candidates if any of them would accept a 10-to-1 deal of spending cuts to tax increases. Not a single Republican on the stage would commit to supporting such a deal, indicating that they considered opposition to any and all tax increases to be a core commitment of their campaigns. At the time, the mainstream media largely lambasted the Republican Party for this, suggesting that it was just the latest, most ludicrous example of the party’s opposition to tax increases. In fact, it showed that the issue was a unifying one for the party, even among the different factions represented by the many candidates on the stage that night.

Maine Republicans were well familiar with that, having faced a similar conundrum three years earlier. Gov. John Baldacci proposed a plan to cut income taxes, but he didn’t want to pay for it by cutting spending — instead, he offered to broaden and raise the sales tax. His reasoning was that such a tax-shift scheme would allow Maine to raise taxes for summer residents while providing tax relief to residents. While a sound theory, it didn’t hold up under the microscope of legislative debate, as it was pointed out that many of the goods and services that would now be taxed were frequently purchased or used by residents as well. In the end, all but one Republican in the Legislature voted against it, and it ended up being overturned at the ballot box through a people’s veto. Shortly thereafter, Republicans seized full control in Augusta as Paul LePage was elected.

Now, as they prepare for their new life in the minority, Republicans would do well to remember all of that history — elements of which may well repeat themselves. The one Republican in the entire Legislature who voted for Baldacci’s tax-shift plan, then-state Sen. Peter Mills, is the brother of the incoming Democratic governor, Janet Mills. Given that connection, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gov. Mills propose some sort of tax-shift scheme of her own.

If she does, Republicans shouldn’t fall for it, just like they didn’t in 2010. Instead, they should categorically reject any such scheme, no matter how much tax relief is offered in exchange for tax increases.

While it will be tough for Republicans to stop much of anything in Augusta this session, there are both advantages and disadvantages in that. The disadvantage is that not only can they not stop legislation, they can’t even do much of anything to change it. Democrats can ram through anything they like on a party-line vote — short of the budget (barely). They don’t really need to give Republicans the time of day at any point during the session, whether during committee or on the floor.

There are advantages to being in such a low position in the Legislature, though, and one of them is that you can take principled stands that contrast with that of the majority party without leading to disastrous consequences. Since Democrats can get their bills through on a partisan basis, widespread Republican support for their bills will signify to the people of Maine that they truly are sound legislation that will help the state as a whole. That means that when Republicans unify in opposition, Mainers can be rest assured that the bill is a misguided piece of legislation that is more ideological in nature than practical.

One of the things that simply isn’t practical right now is any sort of tax increase. Thanks to eight years of fiscal responsibility under Gov. LePage, the state now enjoys a budget surplus, to the tune of around $175 million. That means that the incoming administration won’t need to raise taxes to make up for any shortfall — only if they want to spend above and beyond that without cutting elsewhere. In other words, if Mills’ budget contains any big, shiny new tax increases, the Democrats are living beyond their means.

Given all of that, Republicans in Augusta should remain united to oppose all tax increases this session, no matter how large. Regardless of what they’re supposed to pay for — whether that’s property tax relief, Medicaid expansion or something else — they’re not necessary, and the Republican Party should fight them tooth and nail. If there’s one issue that can unite the party and help them next fall, continuing the fight for lower taxes is it, and Republican legislators shouldn’t forget it.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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