AUGUSTA, Maine — A Democratic attempt to alter Gov. Paul LePage’s bill to align Maine tax rules with federal ones suffered a quick death Thursday amid assertions that its supporters were attempting to pit Maine’s senior citizens against businesses.
Rep. Ryan Tipping-Spitz, D-Orono, who penned the amendment, said he was merely trying to send a message to Republicans that will become more relevant months from now when the Legislature debates LePage’s biennial budget proposal: Democrats won’t give up the fight to reduce the tax burden on the middle class.
At issue is a bill designed to conform Maine’s tax code with federal tax provisions enacted by Congress late last year that affect the 2014 tax filing season. It’s a routine process that has come before the Legislature annually in recent years.
This year, there has been debate among Democrats and Republicans over a provision in the bill that would allow businesses a financial boost for equipment purchases they made last year. The “bonus depreciation” provision would allow businesses to benefit all at once for a tax break that otherwise would roll out over a course of years.
The bill, LD 138, produced a party-line recommendation from the Taxation Committee but was endorsed unanimously by the Appropriations Committee.
Tipping-Spitz’s amendment on Thursday would have removed that provision from the bill and funneled the money into the Property Tax Fairness Credit, which would have provided benefits of between $100 and $300 to the program’s recipients. Democrats who aligned with Tipping-Spitz characterized the program as a key support for Maine’s older homeowners, who struggle to pay higher property taxes while living on fixed incomes.
“I think it’s important that we keep who we’re here for in our minds when we consider policy like this,” Tipping-Spitz said on the House floor. But his amendment was practically doomed moments later when Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, a seasoned lawmaker who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, moved to kill the amendment.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said the amendment would have increased uncertainty for businesses that have been expecting Maine lawmakers to approve the deduction.
“Once you take away the predictability of the tax code in terms of a business trying to make business decisions, you really start to cram down on the ability of businesses that already exist in Maine to make those sorts of investment,” Fredette said. “To pit one group, senior citizens in this amendment, against the business community, I just think that’s unfair.”
Tipping-Spitz said after the vote he knew his provision would not survive in the Republican-controlled Senate, but he wanted to make a point.
“It’s important that our constituents know we’re working for them when we deal with taxpayer money,” he said. “It’s important that we send the message that [relief for property taxpayers] is a priority. … The vote today showed that a large bloc of House Democrats feel that way.”
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, praised passage of the bill without the amendment but agreed with Tipping-Spitz that the fight over property tax relief for the middle class will heat up later in the session.
The unamended bill passed through the Senate later Thursday with a vote of 30-4. The measure is now in LePage’s hands.