Bill would exempt retirees age 70 or older from paying state income tax

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AUGUSTA — A proposal to exempt Mainers who are both retired and at least 70 years old from paying any state income tax is under consideration by the Legislature’s Tax Committee.

Though its sponsor, Rep. Robert Foley, R-Wells, said the idea “may be too drastic a step right now,” he urged colleagues this week to start moving toward “a more favorable tax scenario for our retired Maine citizens.”

Supporters said many well-off seniors live in South Carolina or Florida for slightly more than six months every year so they can avoid paying their native state’s high taxes and fees.

Eric Lusk, a financial advisor from Harpswell, said that retired Mainers who make $80,000 or more annually have a clear financial incentive “to stay out for six months and a day” in order to avoid paying $1,100 or more in state income taxes.

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He said if legislators want to boost the economy — and add sales tax revenue — they should cease making “high-end tax-refugees” fork over their money. It’s “a trade worth making,” Lusk told the tax panel.

Not everyone agrees.

Eric Boothroyd, a retiree from Dover-Foxcroft, said that Foley’s bill may sound good but what it would really do is set up Maine “a tax haven for wealthy retirees, who may bring their money in from out-of-state but not need to pay for any of the services provided by state tax dollars.”

Boothroyd said he would probably benefit from the measure once he turns 70, “but I do not begrudge paying tax dollars to support the infrastructure and programs necessary for the common good of all citizens.”

“Tax dollars need to come from somewhere,” he said, “and it should come from those who can most easily afford it and are least impacted financially.”

Though Maine does not tax Social Security income, Rep. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said the bill “will make a big difference” for seniors “who have worked hard all their life to pay into Social Security and are now getting by and depend on that income.”

“For these people, every nickel is significant. These are folks who know down to the penny how much a loaf of bread, a carton of eggs, a gallon of heating oil, and their electric bill will cost each month,” Stewart said in support of the measure.

Foley said he campaigned in one neighborhood with more than 200 retirees and at least half of them were not Maine residents. He said they all had a common theme: “plight or fight.”

“Many told me that they can no longer vote in Maine, because they changed their residency to another, friendlier retiree state” where they used to go only during winter but eventually opted to stay a little longer to avoid Maine taxes and fees. The savings more than paid for the extra time away, he said.

“As I stood in these driveways and observed the Lexuses, the Mercedes, the BMWs, all with out-of-state plates, I suddenly realized that not only are we losing their income tax revenue, but also the excise tax to our towns, their investment capital in our local banks, their purchasing power, their insurances, and their medical care,” Foley said.

Lusk also pointed to all of the lost revenue for Maine when older people switch residencies and stay away longer, from fewer restaurant meals sold to less boat work. It adds up to big money, he said.

“What is the incentive to claim residency in Maine if one is wealthy enough to have a second home elsewhere?” he asked.

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