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If you, like me, are among the 858,000 Mainers who will be getting $850 checks from the Maine government, you have Gov. Janet Mills and the vast majority of the Maine Legislature to thank for it. Meanwhile, Paul LePage thinks you shouldn’t be getting the money.
Maybe you are thinking you could use the funds to help pay for the basics of everyday life — gas, food, oil, whatever. Or you might want to pay off some bills you already have. You could put the funds toward fixing your roof or another project. Or you could give it to a group to help people worse off than you. Or you could save the money for costs you know you’ll have in the future.
Who is getting those checks? Not the very rich, although the cut-off is certainly above the state’s median family income.
There is no marriage penalty. Because my husband and I make under $200,00 and file jointly, we’ll get two checks of $850, for a total of $1,700. Those making $100,000 or less and filing singly or couples filing separately get $850 each, and people making up to $150,000 who are filing as head of a household will get the same.
These $850 checks were negotiated by Mills in a bipartisan budget process.
The resulting supplemental budget also better funds Maine hospitals and nursing homes, increases wages for child care and medical workers, increases the Earned Income Tax Credit, covers the cost of school lunches, supports higher education and helps those with student loans, creates a fund for contamination from PFAS chemicals, covers health care for more children and adults, and helps low-income people afford property taxes. The previous year’s biennial budget fully funds the long-promised 55 percent of education costs and municipal revenue sharing.
LePage didn’t have those budget priorities as governor. The state has not funded 55 percent of K-12 education costs and he refused to expand health coverage even after Mainers voted to do so in landslide numbers.
And now LePage’s approach for helping people with gas costs is stopping toll collection on the Maine Turnpike for a while and reducing the gas tax.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I almost never pay highway tolls in Maine because I rarely drive where they’re collected. And the Mainers who do pay tolls wouldn’t save that much money.
As for reducing the gas tax, that wouldn’t add up to much for most Maine people either, certainly not as much as $850.
Moreover, business and transportation groups see big problems with LePage’s gas tax and tolls proposal. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce opposed it when LePage introduced his plan in March. As Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association, noted in March, the state has to match federal transportation funds to receive them, and said proposals to drop or end the gas tax “mean well, but won’t work.”
Candidate LePage’s other tax proposal is one he’s broached for years, which is to do away with Maine’s income tax.
LePage’s second term plans for slashing, leading to an elimination of, the income tax would have also raised sales taxes, which hit low and middle income people more. A 2017 analysis by the left-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy found that taxes would have gone up on the bottom 80 percent of incomes while the top 1 percent got an average tax cut of $22,665. At the same time, LePage cut aid to local education and reduced municipal revenue sharing, increasing the need for towns to raise property taxes. This makes homeownership more expensive.
Yet, after returning from Florida to run for governor again, LePage brought back this proposal.
The whole world is experiencing inflation and high gas prices. Cutting the gas tax and tolls won’t do much for the average Mainer. And a permanent, unfunded tax cut that most helps the rich is the wrong approach for Maine.