AUGUSTA – “Harry and Louise”-styled ads blasting President Bush’s plans to repeal estate taxes and help the rich are airing to convince Maine’s two senators to vote against the repeal.

Meanwhile, a Maine Republican Party spokesman said he hopes Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will support the repeal. Killing the “death tax” would free up money allowing businesses to preserve jobs and reinvest when the owner dies.

The Maine ads costing $12,000 were purchased by United for a Fair Economy, a national group that says its members are concerned about the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Its membership includes Bill Gates Sr. and 400 Mainers, said Chuck Collins of the Boston headquarters.

The radio ads feature a couple, “Frank” and “Marge,” in a conversation agreeing that no more estate tax – especially during the Iraq war and deficit spending – would mean less money for health care and education, and more debt for their children and grandchildren.

Just last week, some Mainers spoke against the estate tax repeal during a State House press conference.

Christopher St. John of Maine Center for Economic Policy said if the tax were repealed, the state would lose millions a year “on a tax that 99 percent of Maine citizens don’t pay. It’s only the very wealthy Mainers” who pay, he said.

According to the Maine Revenue Services, only the richest pay estate taxes. Typically, 2 percent or less of Mainers who die each year pay any estate tax, and the remaining 98-plus percent do not pay this tax, said Mike Allen of Maine Revenue Services.

In Maine, only people who leave an estate worth $950,000 or more are subject to the tax, Allen said. The state receives about $30 million a year from the inheritance tax.

But, Maine would not automatically lose income if Congress repealed the tax. The state Constitution dictates that repealing the tax in Maine would require a vote from state lawmakers, Allen said.

United for a Fair Economy’s Chuck Collins said Maine was chosen as one of several ad markets to raise “conversation” about the repeal. “We have hundreds of members in Maine who have a hard time believing that your senators” would repeal a tax to benefit the wealthiest, “people like Paris Hilton … while military parents hold bake sales to buy body armor for their loved ones in Iraq.” Citizens are calling for the estate tax to be reformed, not repealed, he said.

However, Maine’s senators’ stance on the issue is unclear, in part, because specific language is not yet before the Senate.

Snowe spokesman Preston Hartman said Snowe cannot say how she’d vote until she reads a bill. “We need a proposal,” he said.

Collins favors some changes. The estate tax “has placed a tremendous burden on small businesses and farms” forcing some to close, she said Monday. It makes sense, Collins said, to tax the sale of the assets rather than the death of the owner. She plans to support a compromise to help small businesses and farms.

Barry Flynn of the Maine Republican Party praised President Bush as being committed to building the nation’s prosperity and reducing the tax burden.

Flynn disagreed that repeal would only benefit the wealthiest, saying “it is a job destroyer” and businesses are less able to reinvest or stay open when the new owner must pay the tax.

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