AUGUSTA, Maine — The House of Representatives on Monday rejected a bid by Gov. Paul LePage to ask Mainers through a statewide vote whether they want to eliminate the state’s income tax.
The vote was 82-64 against the bill. The vote was party line, with the five independents and two Republicans, Rep. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, and Rep. William Tuell, R-East Machias, voting with Democrats.
LePage presented the bill earlier this year, but it has encountered resistance from Democrats ever since, including a 7-5 party-line vote against the measure last month. The chief argument among the opponents of the concept is that it comes with too many unknowns: most importantly, how losing some $1.7 billion per year in tax revenue would translate to services lost and pressure on other taxes, such as the sales and property taxes.
“I believe the proposal to send this recommendation to the people of Maine without careful consideration means we’re offering and dangling the idea of a free lunch,” said Rep. Denise Tepler, D-Topsham, who is a member of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee. “There is no free lunch.”
LePage and many Republicans disagree and claim that such a massive reduction in taxes would spur Mainers to spend more money, thereby increasing revenues in other areas such as the sales tax. They also argue that the tax cut would benefit businesses and cause them to hire more workers.
Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, said Maine people should have the chance to weigh in.
“I’d like to see this debate go to the public square,” said Espling during floor debate on Monday. “I think we’re talking about the best way to tax Maine people, and they should have a voice in that. I see this resolve as a chance for Maine people to have their say.”
Last week, LePage responded to critics who have claimed he is ignoring the spending side of the equation by refusing to talk about what services he’d cut. He released a list of suggestions for cuts, which would total about $133 million over the next two years. LePage also has threatened to kill every bill sponsored by Democrats until they agree to his tax cut proposal.
LePage has said repeatedly that if this bill is not enacted by the Legislature, he will spearhead a citizen petition to do so.
“Why are Democrats so afraid to let the people of Maine have a voice?” said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett in a prepared statement.