I was saddened to see that before the fall campaign starts in earnest partisan Democrats are running TV attack ads against Sens. Nichi Farnham of Bangor, Chris Rector of Thomaston and three other GOP senators. The ads allege that these senators were a rubber stamp for the governor, claiming they voted for “tax cuts for the rich,” while implying that Democrats opposed them. Neither suggestion is true. I know. I was there.
Most folks don’t care much about party labels. They expect legislators to work together in a bipartisan way. Let’s face it — our individual income tax rates are among the highest in the country, hurting our ability to compete in attracting the capital investment needed to create the good-paying jobs we all want. Recognizing this, we began the process of lowering those rates. The process started with a proposal from the governor that was modified through a series of public hearings and work sessions in both the state taxation and appropriations committees.
Now, in the silly season of political campaigning, some partisan Democrats seem to have amnesia, forgetting their involvement in passing these cuts every step of the way. The tax reform package we passed was unanimously approved by the appropriations committee. In the Senate, the proposal received overwhelming 29-5 support from both parties, including the Senate Democratic leader. The result in the House was similar, 123-19.
The impetus for tax cuts came from Republicans, but the wisdom of these changes was recognized by reasonable people in both parties. It is absurd that some are now attempting to rewrite history for political gain. So did Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly vote for “tax cuts for the rich”? We did no such thing. We passed the largest single tax cut for the middle- and low-income earners in Maine history.
Previously, there were four income tax brackets: 2 percent, 4.5 percent, 7 percent and 8.5 percent. The top rate kicked in at only $19,950 of taxable income for individuals and $39,900 for a married couple filing jointly, punishing the incentive to work. The new law consolidates and eliminates three of the brackets into two, creating a new 0 percent bracket, a flat rate bracket of 6.5 percent, and reducing the top bracket to 7.95 percent. We also increased the personal exemption from $2,850 to $3,700.
With the creation of the new 0 percent bracket, 70,000 of our lowest income workers who were previously paying taxes will now pay no state income tax. This will allow them to spend more of their hard-earned money to keep pace with the rising costs of basic necessities.
Most notable is the fact that “the wealthy” now pay 55 percent of all income taxes collected. With the changes we made, they will now pay 57 percent of all taxes. Again, this is not tax cuts for the rich. It is a tax cut for everybody, weighted toward lower- and middle-income earners.
Readers and reporters should cut through the election-year class warfare language and look at the facts. For example, those earning between $14,400 and $20,500 will see a 46 percent reduction in their taxes. Between $21,000 and $35,000, taxes go down 20 percent. By contrast, high-wage earners will see only an 8.4 percent reduction.
Still not convinced? The nonpartisan folks at Maine Revenue Services agree, saying “taxpayers at the bottom and middle parts of the income distribution will receive a larger percentage change in their income tax liability compared to upper income taxpayers. On average, the income tax represents an estimated 10.8 percent reduction in individual income tax liability for Maine residents. Maine middle-class families can expect a tax cut closer to 15 percent, while taxpayers representing the top 10 percent of Maine families are estimated to see a reduction of 8.4 percent.”
For thoughtful legislators like Farnham and Rector, service in the Legislature is about trying to improve our economic climate, preserve our unique natural resources and allow our hard-working citizens to effectively compete in the global economy. Lowering our uncompetitive tax rates and keeping more money in the hands of working people must be part of that plan. I am proud of the bipartisan work we have done so far. People should thank Farnham and Rector for helping make this happen.
Sen. Roger Katz chairs the Government Oversight Committee and is a member of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. Katz represents Maine Senate District 24, which includes Augusta, China, Oakland, Sidney and Vassalboro.