AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill from Gov. Paul LePage to repeal Maine’s estate tax was rejected on Tuesday by Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives, prompting an angry response from the governor’s office.
It was an expected step for one of the Republican governor’s longstanding goals, which LePage put forward in his 2015 budget proposal. LePage has repeatedly called the estate tax unfair and hostile to wealthy retirees. But the Legislature in 2015 amended it to only apply to estates valued at $5.5 million and only the amount over that threshold.
On Tuesday, the House rejected LePage’s bill in a 77-65, party-line vote, with Democrats calling it a misplaced budget priority that constitutes a giveaway to relatively few rich families. It faces action in the Senate, but it will die if the House stays firm.
Maine’s one of 15 states with an estate tax, according to the Tax Foundation. But the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy has said of the 13,000 people who die in the state each year, about 60 families are subject to Maine’s estate tax. Repealing it would cost a projected $14.2 million in the first full year of implementation.
Rep. Peter Stuckey, D-Portland, said Tuesday on the House floor that in eight years as a legislator, he’s never been contacted by somebody who would be helped by the repeal of the estate tax and “their silence on this issue is deafening.”
“I don’t see how there would be a scenario where taxes wouldn’t be raised or investments that the state makes wouldn’t be cut if we pass this,” said Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, the chairman of the Legislature’s tax committee.
The Maine Bankers Association and the National Federation of Independent Business supported the bill as a way to attract and retain wealth, and it emerged from the tax committee with a 7-6 positive vote.
Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, who co-owns Ricker Hill Orchards, said his family won’t have to pay the tax as the value of its property stands, but he doesn’t know what will happen in the future if the value grows. He echoed Republican arguments that families who amass enough wealth to be affected by Maine’s estate tax have already been taxed on income and capital gains.
“How many times does one family have to be taxed?” he said.
After the vote, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Democrats’ “political games” are “dictatorial” and that they “should want to help Maine families and farmers by lifting this burdensome tax.”
“Instead, if Democrats continue to block this, those who have fixed assets here, like our farmers, will continue to wonder if they will be able to pass their legacy on to the next generation,” she said.