We were startled by a Sun Journal column by Rep. Seth Berry, published Aug. 26. The headline was as subtle as a sledgehammer — “Largest tax shift in Maine history hurts working families.” The column contains wild distortions and blatant fabrications.
Two facts: The tax cuts that Rep. Berry criticized in his column were supported overwhelmingly by legislative Democrats, including himself. They were part of the state budget that passed the House 123-19. It is disingenuous for a legislator to blast away at something he voted for and, as a member of the Taxation Committee, he understands the tax reform bill perfectly well. His attack was designed to deceive readers.
Second, working families benefit from the new tax system. According to Maine Revenue Services — a neutral referee — some 460,000 Maine families will see an average reduction of $337 in their 2013 income tax. Another 70,000 low-income filers will be exempt from state income taxes, thanks to the new zero percent bracket.
MRS officials describe the new system as more progressive than the old one because high-income Mainers will shoulder more of the overall income tax burden. The Maine Today Media newspapers, in an advertising “truth test,” reached the same conclusion, stating, “Maine’s income tax is more progressive because of the changes.”
With the tax changes validated as favoring the poor and middle class, Berry shifted to this claim: “Due to many tax measures passed by the majority, the few making $350,000 will receive an income tax cut of $3,000. In future years, this windfall will increase to more than $24,000 per year.”
Here, he combined two new laws — the budget and LD 849. The income tax cuts take effect next year; in contrast, LD 849 is unlikely to affect anyone for a decade or more.
LD 849 is a “trigger” bill that goes operational depending on a revenue surplus, which would be used to gradually lower the state’s income tax rates. To give “the rich” the $24,000 cut Rep. Berry cites, MRS estimates state government would have to experience a surplus of $3 billion. Considering the entire state budget is $3 billion, this claim is laughable.
Rep. Berry misleads further with claims that Republican cuts to towns and property tax programs will cost “homeowners and renters more than $400 apiece.” However, municipal revenue sharing actually increased this session. The big cuts occurred in fiscal years 2008, 2009 and 2010, falling steadily from $133 million in 2008 to $93 million in 2011 — the last budget year of the Baldacci administration.
Ideological differences between parties are a normal part of politics. However, misleading the public to score cheap election-year points damages our democratic system and denies the public the truth.
State Rep. Susan Morissette, R-Winslow, and state Sen. Tom Martin, R-Kennebec.