Surprise over tax hike shows public's apathy

It’s said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. But vigilance is impossible unless people make an honest effort to stay informed.

We were prepared to deliver a stern rebuke to the uninformed and apathetic this morning, but that would be pointless.

That you are reading a newspaper likely shows you are an informed, engaged citizen in this democracy.

We are, however, occasionally surprised when an issue has been thoroughly covered by this newspaper, and other mediums, and people say they had no idea something was about to happen.

People are beginning to express surprise this week that they have become ineligible for a tax break they have received for many years.

Some are shocked to find that programs aimed at low- and middle-income people were greatly reduced or eliminated by the governor and the Legislature in its recently ended session.

About 75,000 Maine households will no longer be eligible for rebates under the familiar circuit-breaker tax program.

One taxpayer told us the program had been “gutted.”

Indeed, it has. The Legislature and governor did it to close a large gap in the state budget.

But, anyone paying attention should have seen this coming as early as January when Gov. Paul LePage first proposed it.

At least 15 stories, letters to the editor, columns and editorials about the cuts appeared in this newspaper between the governor making the suggestion and signing it into law.

We criticized the governor’s decision on Jan. 27, calling reductions in the programs an obvious tax increase from a governor who claims to oppose all tax increases.

“Property owners, renters stand to lose from proposal,” said a headline in February.

Still, some were completely surprised when the new rules took effect.

Several angry Auburn voters complained at a School Committee meeting last month that they couldn’t find information on the district’s school budget before voting on whether to approve it.

Over the months leading up to the vote, we carried at least 22 stories on the 2013-14 school budget plus an editorial explaining why we thought the increase was justified.

We even devoted a Sunday cover story to the subject with numerous charts and a long story showing how the city of Auburn and its schools compare to similar cities.

Some of the stories were about upcoming budget hearings, some were accounts of meetings, others described exactly what was in the budget and how the School Committee justified the increase.

If some people couldn’t find information, they just weren’t looking.

Last year, the Maine Turnpike announced a large rate increase.

We announced that, announced the dates for hearings, covered those hearings and the Turnpike Authority meetings.

We wrote three editorials against the rate increases, and we ran letters to the editor and columns opposing the new rates.

We wrote stories about how drivers getting a special commuter rate would be especially hard-hit when the new rates took effect.

We ran a front-page graphic showing exactly how riders traveling various distances would be affected by the new commuter rates.

Months later, when the new rates went into effect, there were howls of protest from some commuters caught off guard by the increases.

Argh!

How could people have missed this?

It’s not just that people are not making the effort to become informed, but they are missing the opportunity to influence the decisions and events that affect their lives.

We have seen this time and again over the years, that government often responds when people express themselves.

Like when gun owners show up en masse in Augusta to push laws they like or oppose ones they do not.

We wonder how many citizens called their state reps and senators about losing their property-tax discount.

How many dashed off a note to an elected leader protesting the move?

How many buttonholed Gov. Paul LePage when he visited their town and offered to take questions?

How many attended a legislative hearing to show their opposition, or offered to testify against what amounts to a property-tax increase?

Thomas Jefferson often argued that the public — a well-informed public — is the ultimate repository of power in a democracy.

The next time you hear someone claim they don’t know what’s going on in their community or state, suggest they buy a newspaper.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

Jason Theriault's picture

One of my favorite stautes

Smiley face

Trivia: Anyone know where this is in DC?

I saw it in HS when we went to DC.

Nothing to do with partisanship

For you folks talking about this being a Republican/Democrat thing, you're missing the point. Apathy is apolitical, by definition. Everyone should be voting, but if they can't be bothered to get the facts before going to the polls, I'm amazed they can be bothered to get themselves to the polls. For that matter, why even vote on something you know nothing about?

MARK GRAVEL's picture

All the better since we don't

All the better since we don't want uninformed people voting.

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Apathy is a huge problem if you want good government, but

ignorance is worse.
1. The circuit-breaker program was intended to bring some progressivity to property taxes. Mainly aimed at senior citizens and the disabled. Which is why the Republicans got rid of it.
2. $20,000 is poor for a family of 1. Having the highest tax bracket there does not mean that people earning that are wealthy. An irrational and meaningless conclusion.
3. For simplicity Maine's tax bracket should be the same as the federal brackets; just the rates should be different. Someone earning 20,000 or less should not pay any property taxes and because some SS is exempt from State income taxes the two together should help keep the poor out of grinding poverty.
4. I have no sympathy for the people who have no sympathy.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Do you have proof that

Do you have proof that Republicans got rid of the circuit-breaker program because it was mainly aimed at senior citizens and the disable? I would really like to see proof if you have it or is it just the "progressive" thing to say.

Maine personal income tax is very close to being a flat tax, which is good. No free rides for anyone, you play, you pay.

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

I know the intent of the program

I participated in discussions to create it and later to expand the program which was to bring progressivity to the property tax which would benefit mainly the poor (Seniors make up a high percentage of the poor in Maine and the disabled do to.)
I don't need to "prove" a damn thing to you, but I do read the papers.
LePage in his budget proposed to gut the program to save $73 million dollars. He proposed to cut the average benefit from $1600 to $300-400 and only retain seniors and veterans eligibility. That's gutting the program for seniors and the disabled. LePage is a Republican. The legislature disagreed including some individual Republicans and for that I give them credit. Seniors specific eligibility was removed (no age test). Democrats pushed LD 1113 (among several) to restore the benefit. it was defeated largely by Republicans.
The sorry story in all in the papers it was heavily covered.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Perhaps the Republicans got

Perhaps the Republicans got ride of the circuit-breaker program to balance the budget deficit rather than specifically target the poor and disable because they are simply poor and disable like you claim.

You cannot prove Republicans cut circuit-breaker because they are targeting the poor as you claim. You made an assertion that is unprovable. You made an assertion based on emotion, which makes for crappy argumentation.

End of story!

AL PELLETIER's picture

I've seen it too.

I've chatted with many people who were not aware of the death of the "circuit breaker program". The typical reaction has been, "huh? where did you hear that"?
I reply, "I didn't hear about it, I read about it".
Times sure are a changing!

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Local governments should

Local governments should lower property taxes period. That is the best way to help everyone.

Jason Theriault's picture

No the reason is the Republican's are disconnected.

The Republican goal of free trade is the reason for the loss to Obama. Free trade is good for American business. Profits over the past 30 years have been at all time highs. However, those profits have come with a price - the American middle class. Free trade has decimated it, sending those higher wage jobs overseas.

The only solution is to ride it out at this point, but don't expect those people to buy the same old story again.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Migration of manufacturing to

Migration of manufacturing to lower wage countries could not be stopped regardless of America's stance on free trade.

Uninformed and low

Uninformed and low information voters is why Obama won a second term. Just wait until these low information voters expirience Obamacare.

Mark Wrenn's picture

gubna

No, that explains LePage.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Stay on subject

Sore looser.

John Albertini's picture

surprises over tax increase

Let's see how surprised all those Teapublicans are when their property taxes go up as a result of state funding cuts and the state sales and meal taxes go up. All these tax increases and funding cuts are happening because LePlague and the Republican Party gave $400 million in tax CUTS to the wealthy.

WAKE UP people. Ignorance is not bliss!

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Have you ever stopped to

Have you ever stopped to think the so called wealth pay a disproportional amount of Maine's tax liability. The tax cut as you call it is simple balancing the load. Perhaps you'll think twice about asking for programs if everyone has skin in the game. No more free rides.

MICHAEL LEBLANC's picture

Whenever you read a comment ...

... using such cute and clever terms as "Teapublican" and "LePlague", you know the author is just jerking his left knee and writing what he's been told to think. Indeed, wake up.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I gotta write them down..................

"Teapublican" "LePlague" those are great. I don't agree with anything else he said, but I do like those new names, well new to me anyway...........................

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

And I catch crap about oBAMa?

And I catch crap about oBAMa? Maroons.

John Albertini's picture

LePuke

There's the other name I have for him.
Don't think I was the first to use either one but I've been using them for quite a while.

John Albertini's picture

cute terms?

So Mike, are you in denial that they raised taxes on the 99% to give the wealthiest huge tax cuts totaling $400 MILLION?! I don't find that cute at all. I call it highway robbery class warfare!

MICHAEL LEBLANC's picture

You're in denial that the left ...

... cutely defines "wealthiest" in Maine as anyone who earns more than $20K per year. That's when the highest income tax rate kicks in. The biggest effect of that "huge" cut was the middle class could keep more of its own money. When the left yelps about highway robbery, the middle class is best advised to keep a firm grip on its wallet - the greediest are on the warpath again.

John Albertini's picture

tax "cuts"

Funny Mike, f

Sure the tax cut kicks in at 20K so the median household (making $50K) gets a "whopping" $100-200 income tax cut but sees their property tax go up $200-$300-$400 and their sales tax bill go up as well. The only ones who benefit from this tax cut are those making $150,000+ who see major income tax reductions.
The 2% reduction in the top income tax rate on $50,000 minus the standard deduction and personal exemptions amounts to very little and virtually nothing for those living on $25,000-$30,000. BUT 2% of $250,000 = $5,000. So who is hauling it in?

Jason Theriault's picture

How about Unemployed?

Thats the only thing I want to call LePage.

RONALD RIML's picture

The only thing I'd call him that's 'Printable'

Besides "Jody"

FRANK EARLEY's picture

The point is well noted..........

I agree, there are tons of people out there who don't want to be informed. It's much easier not hearing the good news, than dealing with the bad news. I know people who can in no way deal with news of any kind. I personally start going through withdrawal within minutes of when my internet connection is for whatever reason disconnected. I almost imploded during the ice storm. 17 days with no news.
Now for Ed's comment, there are still a lot of us low income people out here, who really needed that help. I doubt there has been any mysterious influx of wealthy people as a result of this program, believe it or not, I'm just as poor today, as I was when the program was instituted. Why should I suffer, because you feel there are more rich folks than poor????????????

Ed McCaffrey's picture

I don't know what you consider poor

Poor, to me is the old lady living in the house that she can no longer afford on the $12000 a year that she makes on social security because she has to pay for medications that eat up half of her pay. That is low income. If you're single and make more than $20,000.00 a year net, you're not poor, or even low income.
if you can afford a car, a cell phone, a pet, a six pack of beer a day, cigarettes, or the internet for that matter then you are not the person that the program was set up for. You simply used it because you could and now you're angry because you can't anymore. You managed to get by all year long without that money that you're used to getting back, you don't NEED it now, you simply want it.

John Albertini's picture

defining poor

Don't know what world you live in but in America today median HOUSEHOLD income is $50,000. Half make less than that and by many standards, what is considered a LIVING wage is about $30,000 or $15/hr about double today's minimum wage.

Pay rent, utilities and food and $20,000 net leaves about nothing for anything else like healthcare. Our medical insurance cost $15,000 a year, of which an employer pays the bulk but we still pay over $3,000 a year out of our own pocket + deductibles and co-pays. Many employers pay zero toward medical insurance not to mention dental and eye care which isn't covered by medical insurance.

So I think you better understand that $12,000 is well below POVERTY level.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Just to set the record strait...............

Your definition of poor is somewhat over stated. If you think someone receiving twenty thousand a year, isn't poor. Try it. I've been totally disabled for six or seven years now. I was just forty six years old when I got sick. I was three and a half years into a new career. After earning one more college degree, I finally hit the big time. I had the world by the horns.
Now is a different story. I sit home now and wait for my check to arrive. With that check I pay my rent, my heat My medical insurance, both medicare and supplemental, plus all the other little expenses that come up every month. At the end of the month I don't have the money I used to have. I may not be poor by your standards, but I am by no means well off (any more). Being poor isn't a punishment for something. You can not say that if you earn xxx amount of money, your not poor. I have all the amenities I want in life, I just have to struggle and maneuver a lot more to have them. Being poor has nothing to do with what you have. It has a lot more to do with how well your able to enjoy what you have.
Before you can determine poor, you need to consider a lot more variables. Money has a lot to do with it, but as we all know, money isn't everything. That little rebate on my rent helped a lot. Yes I can live without it, but why should I have to? I'll tell you why, because LePage has the compassion of a spider eying it's next meal in the web. Lets find a better use for the word "Poor". We could start with LePage's job performance, and that would just be the beginning.................

Ed McCaffrey's picture

I'm finding it difficult to muster up any sympathy

for these 75,000 Mainers who will no longer be eligible to collect the approximately $400.00 from the State each year. This was intended to be an aid for low income people to allow them to stay in their homes.
The complaints that I have read are coming from people who are retired and making $40,000.00 a year and pay $3000.00 a year in property taxes. If you're making that much money while retired, and have a home that you pay that much in taxes on, you ARE NOT poor. Quit whining.
The family of 4 living on $30000 a year that pays out $700-$800 a month in rent is who this was supposed to help...
Also, as the editorial says, you had plenty of warning and did nothing to stop this change from happening. The is nobody to blame except yourselves.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I asked the parrot once if he

I asked the parrot once if he knew what apathy was.
"Who gives a $#%@", said he.
And that's the name of that tune.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Paul et.al., Sunday morning

Paul et.al., Sunday morning 10:30 am in the \/olcano HI usa area
Your Gov. Paul is having you cake and eating it , too •
hth ? /s Steve
http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/hv60521647#summary

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You need to lay off of the

You need to lay off of the Sunday morning Breakfast Mai Tais, Steve.

Jason Theriault's picture

Or

...At least share.

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