John Brier, 51, a U.S. Army and Massachusetts Guard veteran, has two businesses and two homes in Maine, but he makes his residence in Florida, where there is no state income tax.
He said he’d like to return to Maine, but can’t afford to because of the high taxes, including the state, car excise and property taxes.
Given the chance to make a three-minute elevator pitch to Governor-elect Janet Mills, Brier knows exactly what he’d say.
“I’d tell Janet Mills I’m not in Maine because of the oppressive taxation,” said Brier, who is managing partner of the Maine Knife Co. in Bangor, which designs and makes custom knives. He also recently bought a camp retreat for veterans. “A professional couple paying taxes in Maine pays about the same as the mortgage on a home each month.”
Health insurance costs also are high in Maine, he said. He only would have four choices through Harvard Pilgrim here, he said, and the plan he would choose costs $1,570 per month with an $8,000 deductible.
“Some plans in Florida are 40 percent to 55 percent of the cost of what Maine is charging,” he said.
“Maine businesses and people have so much to offer,” he said. “I’d tell Janet Mills that you have to lower the taxes for individuals and businesses and find a way to get people to stay in the state.” That includes better jobs and higher incomes, he said.
Brier, who studied business at the University of Maine and received an MBA from Thomas College, said there’s no easy answer to lowering taxes and keeping workers. But he’d suggest some test plans to see if they’d work.
“I’d propose a 15-year comprehensive plan that would include decreasing the state income tax 1 percent per year starting the second year of the administration and maybe getting it down to 4 percent so people like myself can live in Maine,” he said.
Currently, Maine has three income tax rates: 5.8 percent, 6.75 percent and 7.15 percent.
“She also could do a pilot program to bring people back. If they make over $200,000 a year and move to Maine and stay for five years, they pay half of the state income tax,” he said. “If they did that, I would come back.”
Gov. Paul LePage said last week that he plans to move to Florida after his term expires in early January. Florida has no state income tax. While LePage has fought to reduce Maine’s income tax, he never met his personal goal of eliminating it.
Though Brier has a similar outlook on Maine’s taxes as LePage, he said it’s very positive to have a first female governor with the possibility of toning down some of LePage’s animosity toward critics.
Make Maine friendly again
Rock Nadeau, 64, co-owner of the White Cedar Inn Bed and Breakfast in Freeport, said the governor’s planned move to Florida is a mistake.
“Gov. LePage’s move to Florida tells a lot about him. I don’t see where his loyalty to Maine lies,” Nedeau said.
Nadeau said hostile rhetoric from Maine and Washington politicians has made the Pine Tree State, formerly a favorite of Canadian tourists, mostly a business-only destination.
“Tourism is a big industry and I’d ask Janet Mills to make a push on Maine tourism, to let visitors know Maine is a very welcoming state to come to,” said Nadeau, a Navy veteran who in his late teens was an engine room machinist’s mate on a destroyer.
“We used to get a lot of Canadians,” he said. “Now the only reason they come to us is [when] they have business here. It’s a combination of the Trump tariffs and ugliness that has come forward. Janet Mills needs to tell Canada [that] Maine is a good place to visit.”
But an even bigger request for the state is to ask her to not alienate LePage supporters, listen to the voters and not ostracize anyone.
“I never voted for LePage. Not everything he’s done is absolutely wrong but the way he did things was wrong,” he said.
He said Mills should put into place all referendums approved by the voters.
“She has the obligation to implement those things,” he said. That includes ranked-choice voting for all races, expanded Medicaid as the voters wanted and funding schools properly.
“And she has an opportunity to embrace the moderates, be inclusive, get rid of the extremes and really reach across the aisle,” he said.
A helping hand
In her action plan for Maine’s economic future, Mills said that for veterans she would improve access to medical care and work to ensure that no veteran is homeless. She also said she would provide grants to help veterans grow small businesses.
That’s something Col. Jack Mosher, 53, would like from Mills: more help for nonprofits like his that are running on a shoestring and training for veterans wanting to start businesses.
Mosher, a retired chief of staff of the Maine National Guard who has put 30 years into the military, retired in 2015 and formed Gold Star Outfitters, a nonprofit, adaptive outdoor experience for disabled veterans on China Lake.
He partners with other organizations focused on helping injured veterans in Maine, including Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat and House in the Woods.
Mosher and his staff of Maine Guides take disabled veterans outdoors to enjoy the healing power of nature and teach them how to tie flies and cast so they can go fly fishing.
“It’s not easy to teach fly tying to someone without hands,” Mosher said, “but there are new devices to help.”
The nonprofit runs on little overhead. Mosher collaborates with his partner veteran organizations, raises money and has a small lavender farm from which he sells oil and lotion.
However, even a small helping hand can make a difference, he said, and he’d like Mills to consider that. His nonprofit, for example, was denied the state’s sales and use tax exemption because of its focus on veterans with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder, though Mosher said the state is currently working to rectify the exemption to apply to organizations like his.
“Janet could be more friendly to nonprofits. We need a more business friendly environment while still holding nonprofits accountable,” Mosher said.
He said small nonprofits also can give special services not available at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, like taking patients outdoors.
“There’s a clinical value to being outdoors fly fishing,” he said. “I’d remind Janet of the incredible value of nonprofits.”