Daily Brief: Collins claims victory against Obama plan to tax college savings plans

Good morning from a tranquil Augusta, where all remains quiet after yesterday’s headline-grabbing snowstorm dumped more than a foot of powder.

There’s been no word from Gov. Paul LePage about further state office closures, so it appears government will open once again after being officially put on hold yesterday when the governor declared a state of emergency

Legislative committee meetings, however, have been canceled for the day, meaning many lawmakers will get another snow day — whether they’re at home in their districts or whiling away the time at the Senator Inn, where many legislators stay during session. 

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Collins claims win as Obama dumps move to tax college savings plans

It was only yesterday that Susan Collins, Maine’s wildly popular senior senator, took the floor of the Senate to rail against a proposal by President Barack Obama to tax the earnings of college savings accounts known as 529s.

So it was with pleasure that Collins learned later in the day that Obama would drop the plan, which faced growing pushback on Capitol Hill, according to CNN.

The president had proposed the plan as part of his upcoming budget plan. The savings accounts allow for post-tax income to be saved for tuition and other costs associated with attending college and withdrawn tax-free, and Collins said they help millions of parents plan for their children’s future.

“The president’s proposal undermines the very values that we should be promoting – families making sacrifices today in order to better provide for their children tomorrow,” Collins said on the Senate floor, echoing sentiments she expressed in a letter to the Senate Finance Committee.

But it wasn’t just Collins who opposed the president’s plan, according to CNN. The news agency reported yesterday that a White House official said “fierce opposition to the provision was building in Congress, even among fellow Democrats.”

Collins said word that Obama would back down was welcome news, and that the president’s plan “never made sense.”

An Obama administration official said the 529 tax plan was only a small piece of the president’s larger tax reform proposal, which the administration claims will lead to $50 billion in education tax cuts, CNN reported.

All snow is politics

The storm dominated news coverage yesterday as seemingly every reporter in the state became a weather reporter for at least part of the day. But as students — and some grownups — reveled in the snow day, the office of House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, used the storm to rally against Gov. Paul LePage’s newest proposal to gut state aid to municipalities.

As you’re doubtless aware, LePage’s two-year budget proposal holds the line on municipal revenue sharing at about $60 million in the first year before eliminating it completely in the second.

The fight over cuts to revenue sharing was one of the most contentious of the last budget cycle. LePage originally proposed doing away with revenue sharing completely, but the legislature preserved about 40 percent of what the revenue sharing law calls for. Local officials and their allies in both parties argued that cuts in state funding for local governments cause property tax increases as towns and cities struggle to afford education and basic services.

Services such as snow plowing.

“During a blizzard, we see municipalities put those [state] dollars to work,” wrote Eves’ spokeswoman, Jodi Quintero, in a memo to reporters. “From plow truck drivers to emergency responders, each and every one of our towns depends on these state funds to ensure public safety. They work around the clock and they depend on the state to help cover the cost.”

Democrats have been slow to make pointed criticisms of the governor’s budget proposal and stressed their willingness to work with LePage on a state spending plan. But where revenue sharing is concerned, there’s likely going to be a fight — whether it’s wanted or not.

Reading list

Maine’s news musician strikes again

BDN visual journalist Troy R. Bennett has a penchant for songs about the news. You may remember his ode to the runaway pig that escaped the slaughter in Woodland, or his ballad for the North Pond Hermit.

Yesterday, between shooting photos of snowmobiles and cross-country skiers prowling the streets of Portland, Troy penned and performed a song for the snowstorm: “This is Maine and it’s going to snow.” Give it a listen so it can be stuck in your head, like it’s been stuck in ours.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.