By Rep. Heather Sirocki – Here in Maine, we value our privacy and our laid-back lifestyle. That’s why it came as a surprise to me that the Maine People’s Alliance (MPA), a controversial liberal activist organization, has deployed political salespeople to knock on our doors at night. At 7:30pm on Valentine’s Day they knocked on my door in Scarborough.
The activists’ information is based on prepared talking points and, if presented with any questions, they have limited knowledge. They are collecting signatures for a petition to raise taxes on “the rich.”
Many of them are from out of state. One who knocked on my door was from Connecticut; another who knocked on Rep. Amy Volk’s door was from Kansas City, Missouri. There are similar reports from around the state.
Recently, the MPA staged a rally at the State House, filling the halls with rhyming chants punctuated by “solidarity claps.” Among them were several middle school students, on a regularly scheduled school day, who attended special protest training. Whenever a reporter tried to engage one of the volunteer activists, a paid MPA handler would appear to make sure the volunteer stayed “on message” and usher the reporter away if need be.
It was cult-like and bizarre.
Last March, the MPA mob stormed into the main hall of the State House and shouted down a multiple sclerosis awareness event in a shockingly offensive display of disrespect, just to prove a point.
They really do put the “warfare” in “class warfare.”
The MPA’s effort to make villains of Maine’s “rich” is puzzling, given that according to Maine Revenue Services there are only an estimated 4,100 people earning $250,000 or more per year in the whole state. Even if we bump their income tax rate from 7.95 back up to 8.5%, one of the highest state income tax rates in the whole country, it would only yield an additional $5 million in revenue.
We are facing a $400 million cost overrun at the Department of Health and Human Services and owe the hospitals almost $500 million. Clearly, increasing taxes on the dwindling pool of financially successful Mainers does not solve our problems. That has been tried everywhere from California to France to Greece with disastrous results.
We saw just last month a 39-year Bangor manufacturing business relocate to New Hampshire, citing high taxes and a hostile business climate.
The left’s infatuation with increasing taxes on the rich is interesting considering Maine’s record. In 2009, a “tax reform” package was rammed through the Legislature that gave twice the income tax cut to the wealthy that the recent reform gave, paid for by hitting struggling Mainers with new sales taxes on over 100 previously untaxed products and services, including everything from nursing home meals to car repairs.
Fortunately, Mainers saw this bill for what it really was and repealed it the following year.
In 2011, however, the Republican Legislature with strong bi-partisan support passed meaningful middle-class tax reforms, eliminating the income tax for 70,000 working Mainers and returning $200 million per year back into the pockets of hardworking taxpayers. This serves as a direct shot in the arm of the private sector to help Maine regain its economic footing.
And there are signs that Maine’s recovery is underway. Last year, we saw 6,800 new private sector jobs. Creating a healthy small business environment and putting money in people’s pockets is the key to economic growth, which in turn helps the state pay its bills and meet fiscal obligations.
Taxes should be fair, but the problem is that well-meaning yet misguided legislators over the years have lopped everybody making about $20,000 per year into Maine’s highest bracket!
The best way to achieve tax fairness is not to increase taxes on the rich, it’s to lower them for all hardworking taxpayers and put the majority of Mainers in a lower bracket—currently at 6.5% of income instead of 7.95%. These new rates are still high when compared nationally, but they are welcome relief for thousands of struggling Maine taxpayers.
History has shown that tax-hungry politicians will try to expand the higher bracket to include everybody and repeat the cycle, rather than control spending. Be on guard.
The next time one of these activists comes to your door trying to sell a bill of goods about “tax fairness,” I recommend politely telling them that Mainers are already heavily taxed, we need to spend within our means, and we’re already paying our fair share.
Rep. Heather Sirocki (R-Scarborough), a dental hygienist, is serving her second term in the Maine House, where she sits on the Health & Human Services Committee.
Editors Note: The Portland Press Herald declined to publish this op-ed