Sometimes to fight an injustice, you have to stand up — or sit down. Sitting down and refusing to budge until we were led out in handcuffs is what I and four other protesters did late last year in Sen. Susan Collins’ Bangor office. We were willing to get arrested to try to convince her not to vote for a Trump-GOP tax bill we knew would help the wealthy while hurting working folks.
But she voted for it — as did, with considerably more enthusiasm, Rep. Bruce Poliquin — and the bill passed. This Labor Day, nine months later, seems like a good time to see whether the law has been the bad news for Maine’s working families that I and its many other opponents predicted.
A tax cut for big corporations was the centerpiece of the plan. President Donald Trump claimed his massive tax giveaway to big business would actually help working families, to the tune of a $4,000 pay raise.
No one I know has gotten a sudden $4,000 raise because of the corporate tax cut — certainly no one in my union of electrical workers. Work and wages have been growing, but that’s part of a long trend that began after the Great Recession ended almost 10 years ago. I haven’t seen any improvement in the Maine economy linked to the tax law, and national statistics bear that out.
The reason is clear: Instead of using their big tax breaks to raise wages or make useful investments, corporations have been shoveling even more money at their rich CEOs and wealthy shareholders. Since the law was enacted corporations have announced a staggering $700 billion in stock buybacks, which enrich Wall Street investors while doing little or nothing for workers, according to an ongoing tally by Americans for Tax Fairness.
That buyback figure is 100 times more than the $7 billion that a small fraction of the U.S. workforce — just 4.3 percent — has received in tax-cut-related bonuses or pay hikes.
Promised benefits for workers are hard to find, but drawbacks of the law are easy to see. For instance, it took away a lot of tax breaks that helped my members and other working people, such as being able to deduct union dues and work-travel expenses such as mileage. Even figuring in the law’s other changes, it’s clear my members will be net losers come tax time.
More important than the missing tax breaks, though, is the money that will be missing from important public services. While giving most of the benefits to the wealthy and corporations, the tax cuts will add $1.9 trillion to the federal deficit over 10 years. Trump and Poliquin’s Republican friends in the House of Representatives are already trying to plug the resulting budget hole with cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education and more.
It was the threat posed by the Trump-Poliquin-GOP tax plan to Mainers’ health care that got me protesting last December. The bill weakened a key part of the Affordable Care Act — the individual mandate — that will cause millions to lose insurance coverage and millions more get hit with big premium hikes. Now add the trillions of dollars in proposed health care funding cuts and you can see what a disaster the GOP law is for Maine’s working families.
Almost half a million Mainers rely on Medicare or Medicaid. Yet, Republicans are willing to threaten those working families’ health, economic security and peace of mind to help pay for a tax cut that gives the wealthiest 1 percent of Maine residents an average annual tax cut of nearly $32,000.
Republicans are also trying to foot the bill for their skewed-to-the-rich tax cuts with cuts to education. Less federal aid to schools means more struggles over state funding — remember last summer’s government shutdown? — and higher town real estate taxes.
As I sit down to my union local’s Labor Day picnic, I’ll be thinking about my sit-down protest last December. Both events support Maine’s working families — something the GOP tax law most certainly does not do.
Nick Paquet is president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1253 in Fairfield.
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