Activists provide check

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LEWISTON – A gathering of about 20 activists outside of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ Lisbon Street office Monday worked a little street theater and a novelty-sized check into its plea for Maine’s two Republican senators to reject a new round of federal tax cuts.

Organized by the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities, the small rally featured four speakers who railed against legislation that would extend capital gains and dividend tax cuts, which are set to expire in 2008.

“We want a federal budget that represents the moral priorities of our country,” said Sister Claire Lapage of Lewiston. “In my opinion, this is taking from the poor to give to the rich.”

The House and Senate passed different versions of the tax legislation late last year. The House included $56 billion in cuts, including the extension on the capital gains and dividend cuts originally passed in 2003. The Senate did not include those cuts in its package, which included about $60 billion in cuts, most of which was dedicated to a short-term fix of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which mainly affects those with incomes of more than $100,000.

The two versions of the bill have been stuck in conference committee for almost five months as House and Senate negotiators have tried to find common ground. On Friday, The Associated Press reported that closed-door meetings between Republican negotiators had resulted in “good progress.”

“Progress for some people,” Lapage said. “But many steps backwards for the majority.”

The conference committee could send its compromise, once the details are worked out, to the House and Senate as soon as this week, the AP reported.

Jim Parakilas of Lewiston summed up his arguments against the pending deal: Congress has cut student loans, Medicaid and Medicare and benefits to veterans so that oil and gas companies and the rich can enjoy reduced tax bills.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning Washington, D.C.,-based think tank, households with incomes of less than $50,000 would receive an average tax cut in 2009 of less than $11 from the dividend and capital gains extensions. Households with incomes of more than $1 million would receive cuts of about $42,000.

After the speeches, the group began to move inside of Collins’ office to present her staff with a super-sized, fake check made out for $4.3 billion, the estimated cost of the tax hike proposed by the Senate on oil and gas companies. The increase is not included in the House bill.

As Milt Hillery, a board member for Maine People’s Alliance, finished his remarks, he referred to the check and asked of Snowe and Collins: “Will you make this check out to the very wealthy or for families?”

Just then, Alec Maybarduk of Lewiston, dressed in a suit and carrying a cigar, grabbed the check, proclaiming himself a representative of the wealthy, ruling class: I need a second yacht, I need a third yacht, my daughter needs a pony.

The fake check, ripped from the hands of the rich man of the moment, was then presented to Collins’ office.

Snowe was one of the architects of the Senate bill and opposed inclusion of the capital gains and dividend extensions at the time, said her spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier.

The senator, Ferrier said, won’t take a position on the final version until she sees the details of the conference committee bill.

A spokeswoman for Collins echoed that, saying that the senator hasn’t seen the details of a final agreement.

“Sen. Collins is concerned about the size of the budget deficit,” said Jen Burita. “She also recognizes the benefit of certain tax relief to the economy.”

In Maine, Burita said, it is estimated that more than 100,000 people benefit from capital gains cuts, more than 140,000 from the dividends relief and nearly 26,000 benefit from AMT relief.

Both Snowe and Collins voted for the original version of the Senate bill. Maine’s two Democratic congressman, Tom Allen and Mike Michaud, voted against the House version.

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