AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Republican Party will pursue the phase-out and elimination of the income tax, as well as welfare reform, at the ballot box.
GOP Chairman Rick Bennett received the go-ahead from the state committee on July 18 to “dedicate and deploy any and all party resources he deems necessary” to get both issues directly to voters.
In an interview, Bennett said the party hopes to collect the tens of thousands of signatures necessary by the January deadline for placement on the November 2016 ballot. He said finer points of the initiatives are still being hammered out.
“We’ve only just begun to work out the details, now that the state committee has taken this action,” he said. “I think the logical thing would be to set a date where [the income tax] would be eliminated, a goal post we could move toward over time.”
Reducing the state’s income tax — on the way to eliminating it — and instituting welfare reform were key goals of Republican Gov. Paul LePage this year. But several bills to cut the state’s welfare rolls were rejected, as was his proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate the income tax by 2020.
Lawmakers did make a dent in the income tax in their bipartisan budget deal and implemented some welfare reforms, including the elimination of the “welfare cliff.” But LePage and many of his Republican allies were frustrated by the lack of more drastic action.
Bennett said the party sees a groundswell of support in the electorate for both proposals.
“There are a lot of people who would like to see these changes made, who are frustrated by Democratic intransigence in the Legislature that obstructed its passage,” he said. “We want to have a big conversation with as many people as possible and get all that energy on board.”
LePage had earlier pledged to begin in September a citizen initiative to slash the income tax. His goal is to get the question on the ballot in 2016, and the governor has said he’ll campaign against any politician — Democrat or Republican — who opposes his efforts.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the party’s initiatives, but said the governor would continue to support the phase-out and ultimate elimination of the state’s income tax.
“I expect the income tax will be a central part of the governor’s conversations when he’s speaking with Mainers in the coming months,” she said.
Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said the Maine Republican Party’s move to take the lead on the two issues showed that both were more about politics than policy.
“It’s about campaigning, not governing. When the governor rolled out his income tax cut, Republicans distanced themselves from it, and wanted nothing to do with it,” Bartlett said. “The governor has become completely ineffective, and this just seems to be another symptom of that. He can’t get things done, so the political machine is going to try to do it.”
Bartlett also said it would be important for Republicans to explain how the state would make up for the loss of more than $1.5 billion in annual revenue currently generated by the income tax. That’s roughly half of all state tax revenue.
The November 2016 ballot is shaping up to be among the most packed in recent memory, even aside from the presidential, congressional and legislative races.
In addition to the unveiled Maine GOP proposals, groups pushing for a statewide minimum wage increase, marijuana legalization, ranked-choice voting and campaign finance reform are all working toward qualifying for November 2016 ballot questions.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.