Will Maine Democrats stand up for tax fairness?
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Republican legislators are joining with Democrats in Kansas right now to repeal Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts for the wealthy, acknowledging the failure of a regressive experiment that left the state’s economy in shambles.

If Kansas is a ray of hope in the heartland for supporters of tax fairness, though, there’s a dark storm cloud brewing over the Northeast. The state of Maine is facing a government shutdown in a matter of weeks over exactly this issue of tax cuts for the wealthy.

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It’s also a fearsome preview of what lies ahead for the federal budget. Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage in many ways is the precursor to the recklessness and callousness of President Trump. Under his leadership, Republicans in the state legislature are pushing for full repeal of a successful citizen-backed referendum passed last November that increased taxes on the top two percent of income earners in order to finally, fully fund the state’s commitment to education.

 

The state budget will hinge on whether Democrats will stand up for tax fairness or allow the enacted law to be scrapped.

After seven years of Gov. LePage, Mainers have seen our share of politics that seek to divide us and budgets that pit one group of people against another. Sound familiar? 

We worked to pass the tax fairness referendum last year precisely because of this politics of division. It was important that voters be given a chance to say not only that every child in every town should have a fair shot at success in the classroom, but that it would be funded by asking wealthy Mainers to pay just a bit more of their fair share.

Unfortunately, despite this effort and the clear voice of the voters, it's happening again. Lawmakers who want to repeal the tax on the wealthy are pushing to cut health care, food and other assistance to children to pay for it. What this means is that suddenly, priorities like anti-poverty programs are being positioned against education funding. 

It’s not like voters have changed their minds since November. In fact, the opposite has happened. A full 72 percent of Mainers now say the legislature should uphold the will of the voters and not make major changes to the referendum this year, a higher percentage than even voted to pass the education funding. 

Education funding is voters’ top priority for the state budget, while a tax cut for those making more than $200,000 is the absolute lowest. Importantly, Mainers know who is at fault here, and by a 20-point margin would blame Republicans for any shutdown.

Maine people supported a referendum that sought to increase revenue so that we can stop fighting over a pie that has been intentionally shrunk by previous rounds of tax cuts benefiting the wealthy. Now those with power are pushing back and threatening shutdown if lawmakers don’t repeal what the voters just passed.

Democrats who take the side of profits over people are not hearing the voice of the people. People want elected officials —  especially Democrats — to narrow inequality in the country not increase it.

It’s time for legislators who believe in fairness and respect democracy to reject the politics of divide-and-conquer. There’s still time to go on the offensive for a progressive tax system so the wealthy pay their fair share and we’re not cannibalizing vital anti-poverty programs to fund our schools, or the other way around. 

Voters in Maine, just like the rest of the country, want to be respected, not ignored. They will remember which legislators stood up for them instead of for the lobbyists and the wealthy elite, and they’ll certainly remember who didn’t.

Jesse Graham is executive director of the Maine People’s Alliance. Lois Kilby-Chesley is president of the Maine Education Association. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.