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Justin Alfond of Portland is an entrepreneur, activist and former Maine Senate President.
One of my late grandfather’s favorite sayings was: “If you keep chopping wood, pretty soon there will be a pile.” It’s that spirit and commitment that sparked my interest in community organizing, starting businesses and nonprofits, and serving in the Maine Senate. I am extraordinarily blessed, but for most Mainers, no matter how hard they work or how high their pile of wood becomes, they can’t get ahead. Everyday families are struggling, and Democrats in Congress are working to change that.
Last month, the House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act, President Biden’s bill to support American workers and combat climate change, and sent it on to the Senate. The bill puts $2.2 trillion towards child care, health care, education,and climate action. It will fuel Maine’s recovery and strengthen the economy by creating good-paying jobs, making services more affordable, and lowering taxes for working Americans.
Rep. Jared Golden, who represents the 2nd Congressional District, voted against this signature piece of Democratic legislation. His reason was that the bill fails to deliver the “best possible deal” for Mainers. While this bill does many good things, he’s right.
Golden’s primary concern is the massive tax break — roughly $275 billion — that the bill would give to wealthy Americans by lifting the cap on the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction. According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, only 4 percent of Maine households would see any benefit from raising the SALT cap, and most of those families are among Maine’s wealthiest. Meanwhile, there would be no benefit for the 60 percent of Maine families making less than $67,800 per year.
The SALT provision would simply make long-standing problems with our tax code worse. Right now, most millionaires and billionaires are required to pay little, if any, taxes. Unlike most Americans, almost all of their income comes from wealth rather than wages or salaries, so they don’t pay the same tax rates as most working Mainers. Our nation’s tax code is already broken. It’s unconscionable that we would cut taxes for the wealthy at a time when working families are struggling and need our support.
Instead, to pay for this bill and make the critical investments our country needs without saddling future generations with billions in debt, we should raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
Senate Democrats are currently considering a proposal that would do just that, the Billionaires Income Tax. Crafted by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the tax would apply to billionaires’ untaxed investment income, and would generate an estimated $557 billion over the next ten years. It’s a smart, common sense proposal that would address one of the most egregious elements of our uneven tax system.
Together, rolling back the SALT deduction and adding the Billionaires Income Tax could generate up to roughly $832 billion over the next ten years—all without raising taxes on working families and businesses or adding a single dollar to the national debt. Rep. Golden supports both measures, because it’s the right thing to do for the U.S. economy, for hardworking Mainers, and for future generations who will benefit from the public investments we make today.
I know from my time in the Maine Senate that passing legislation is complicated and messy. While the Build Back Better Act is a must-pass piece of legislation, Congressman Golden is right to leverage his vote to improve it by narrowing the SALT provision and adding the Billionaires Income Tax. Let’s hope the rest of Congress follows his lead.