Ads vex tax reform friends, foes
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Vote 2010

Ads vex tax reform friends, foes


By Kevin Miller
BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — The political rhetoric is heating up over the tax reform measure on the June 8 ballot.

On Thursday, opponents of Question 1 accused supporters of running misleading ads in their campaign to overturn the tax-restructuring bill that reduces Maine’s income tax rate while applying the sales tax to more goods and services.

Supporters of Question 1 quickly fired back, charging the other side with distorting the truth in their own television advertising.

“This has been a messy, messy process so I am very frustrated,” said Sen. David Trahan, a leader of the campaign to repeal the tax reform law.

Question 1 reads: “Do you want to reject the new law that lowers Maine’s income tax and replaces that revenue by making changes to the sales tax?”

The ad in question, paid for by the Maine Association of Realtors, describes the tax reform package passed by the Legislature last year as “another government bailout for the wealthy.” The ad also decries broadening the sales tax and increasing the meals and lodging tax.

But the line that has the No on 1 campaign most fired up deals with how many people will see a tax decrease and with Maine’s system of tax deductions.

“In fact, as Maine’s wealthiest 1 percent get tax cuts, you will end up paying with large tax increases and removal of taxpayer itemized deductions for mortgage interest, medical expenses and charitable contributions,” the ad states.

Not true, charges the members of the group No Higher Taxes for Maine, which is leading the fight against the repeal.

Figures from the Maine Revenue Service predict that 96 percent of Mainers will pay less in taxes due, largely, to the reduction of the top tier of income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 6.5 percent. Supporters of the tax reform measure insist that tourists will shoulder more of the tax burden under the new system.

Additionally, itemized deductions will not be removed by the tax reform law but, instead, would be converted to a new system of household tax credits, according to No Higher Taxes for Maine.

“It’s simply not true,” Christopher St. John with the liberal-leaning Maine Center on Economic Policy said in a statement Thursday. “Independent research from the nonpartisan office of the Maine Revenue Service shows all levels of income benefit from the tax relief bill. It’s unfortunate that during a campaign the truth is not the first rule but, in the case with the Yes on 1 campaign, it is not even an afterthought.”

But Trahan stands by the ad’s content and suggests that if any party is stretching the truth, it’s the No on 1 campaign.

Trahan pointed out that the No on 1 campaign’s ads state that voting “yes” on Question 1 will increase income taxes. In actuality, Trahan said, voters will be choosing to keep their income taxes the same because, by placing the repeal referendum on the June ballot, the new tax laws never took effect. Thus, the income tax rate was never decreased.

Additionally, Trahan accused the other side of over-inflating the number of Mainers who will see their tax burdens shrink.

“The more they try to shed light on this, the worse it is for them because their ads are really over the top,” Trahan said.

To date, Question 1 has been overshadowed by the June 8 primary elections for Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates. But both gubernatorial and legislative candidates frequently mention the battle over Question 1 during campaign events.

On Thursday, the Maine Ethics Commission made clear that candidates who receive public financing will have to tread carefully to avoid violating Maine’s Clean Election Act should they decide to incorporate their views on Question 1 into their campaign materials.

Waterville attorney Dan Billings had asked the commission for guidance on whether candidates who receive funding through Maine’s Clean Elections Fund can include their positions on Question 1 in their campaign ads for political office.

As an example, Billings provided the commission with a copy of a proposed radio script for an unnamed candidate that focuses largely on Question 1 but mentions his or her candidacy.

The proposed script ends with the following line: “I will bring change to the Legislature, but first I am voting Yes on Question 1 to send a message to Augusta that enough is enough.”

The commission made clear that candidates that should not use Maine Clean Election Act funds on ads that urge support or opposition to a ballot question. At the same time, candidates should be entitled to discuss or make known their positions on important issues, including the controversial tax restructuring bill, commissioners said.

But the commissioners declined to offer candidates additional advice on how to avoid crossing that line, saying cases would have to be examined individually.

Billings said afterward that he was disappointed by the lack of clarification.

“It’s frustrating because I have candidates who are trying to play by the rules and meet their obligations as Clean Elections candidates,” said Billings, who advises Republican candidates on Maine election law.

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