May 21, 2019
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LePage: Tap liquor revenues to cut income tax, drug-test more welfare recipients

BDN File | BDN
BDN File | BDN
Gov. Paul LePage

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Republican Party will go straight to a statewide vote in pursuit of his goals of eliminating the income tax and implementing a variety of reforms to social services.

That LePage and his supporters will attempt to invoke Maine’s citizen petition process to put the questions on the ballot is not news, but new details about those efforts emerged Tuesday in documents obtained by the Bangor Daily News.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said the specifics of the proposals are still under development but the party is likely to release them in the coming days. He described the documents as “working documents” that are being circulated to solicit feedback.

“We have had a lot of ideas bouncing around,” said Savage on Tuesday morning. “There will be some changes to what we’re actually going to propose, aside from what’s in those documents.”

One of the initiatives seeks to use revenues from the state liquor contract, after it is renewed in 2024, to ratchet down the income tax until it is eliminated. The bill would gradually reduce the income tax rate between Jan. 1, 2018, and Jan. 1, 2021, the latter of which would see the rate at 4 percent for individuals. Maine’s top individual income tax rate is currently 7.15 percent.

The proposal would also use a portion of revenues from the state liquor contract to continue to reduce the income tax rate until it reaches zero. The 10-year contract, signed in 2014, is expected to yield more than $450 million in revenue in its first 10 years. That revenue is currently earmarked for certain expenditures, including funding a bond that paid off Medicaid debt to hospitals. According to the draft of the bill, more of the liquor revenues will be used to pay down the tax rate as they become available.

There is no language in the bill that describes what spending cuts will be required to compensate for the lowered revenue. That task would have to be accomplished in budget bills that require legislative approval.

The second bill includes several social service reforms, some of which have been tried and failed by the LePage administration and legislative Republicans in recent years. They include:

— A work-search requirement for job-ready applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

— The prohibition of using Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds on tobacco, liquor, gambling, lotteries, tattoos, bail, travel services and foreign money transmissions.

— An amendment of the time period in which applicants may receive alternative aid to 60 months.

— Prohibiting the use of electronic benefit transfer cards — which are essentially debit cards the state uses to distribute cash benefits — at smoke shops.

— Eliminating General Assistance, TANF, supplemental security income and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for noncitizens who are ineligible under federal law.

— Eliminating good-cause exemptions for federal work requirements in the TANF program, except in cases of domestic violence.

— Requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to submit an annual waiver request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to eliminate “junk food” from the SNAP program.

— Eliminating eligibility for TANF and SNAP for convicted drug felons.

— Establishing drug testing, based on “reasonable suspicion,” for the entire population of TANF adult recipients.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Maine’s top income tax rate.


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