It’s action time for LePage’s push to eliminate Maine’s income tax

It’s Tuesday in Augusta and it’s time to see how lawmakers react to Gov. Paul LePage’s attempt to strong-arm them into voting in favor of asking the Maine people to eliminate the state’s income tax.

LePage has asked for everyone who can to attend today’s Taxation Committee hearing, where the bill he unveiled last month — and gave lawmakers hours to decide if they’d sign on — is being introduced.

“I speak out for the hard-working Maine taxpayer at ever opportunity, but tomorrow, it is your turn to speak out with me,” said LePage in a written statement circulated to reporters Monday afternoon. “I know this is short notice, but it we can pull together to make this proposal a reality, it will benefit Maine’s economy for the rest of our lives.”

In April, LePage submitted a bill that proposes to change the Maine Constitution and eliminate the income tax, which requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature. By the end of the day, all five Republican legislative leaders had co-sponsored the bill, but not a single Democrat. LePage and Republicans already enacted an income tax cut in 2011 under a GOP-controlled Legislature, and LePage is calling for another cut in his biennial budget proposal, which is currently under consideration.

Since his re-election last year — LePage said during the campaign he wanted to cut taxes but did not talk about eliminating the income tax until his second term — LePage has made it clear that eliminating the income tax and its approximately $1 billion a year in revenues for the state is his priority as governor.

Democrats support a reduction in the income tax rate for some Mainers and have outlined their own proposal to do so, but their cuts go nowhere as far as LePage’s would.

From the sounds of his written statement, it looks as if LePage plans on attending this afternoon’s 1 p.m. Taxation Committee meeting. Two years ago, the governor spoke at a committee hearing on his priority for the previous legislative session, repaying the state’s Medicaid debt to hospitals. Watch for coverage.

Elsewhere in the State House, the House and Senate are convening this morning, but it’s hard to predict what they’ll be working on until legislative leaders decide later this morning.  There is a very heavy committee schedule this afternoon, which you can see for yourself by clicking here.

Some highlights:

  • The Education Committee is working on three bills related to curbing student hunger.
  • The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee is being introduced to bills focused on renewable energy projects and policy.
  • The Health and Human Services Committee has work sessions scheduled on child abuse prevention laws as well as a bid to change the way the Department of Health and Human Services does rulemaking for people with autism or intellectual disabilities.
  • The Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on four bills related to treatment for mental illness. — Christopher Cousins

How would you vote on an equal rights amendment to the Constitution?

We may soon find out if a bid by Portland Democratic Rep. Diane Russell is successful. Russell introduced a bill on Monday that calls for a statewide referendum to state explicitly in the Maine Constitution that the denial of equal rights based on gender is prohibited.

Russell said in emotional testimony Monday to the Judiciary Committee that although there are a range of civil rights protections in Maine law, neither the U.S. nor Maine Constitution has an explicit statement about gender rights.

“The rights of women have been hard-earned over a very, very long time,” said Russell. “But unless equality is guaranteed in the Constitution, those laws can disappear with a vote against them in this body. We should be in this country a beacon of light for women’s rights all over the world. … We have an opportunity to tell women and girls across the state that we are valued as equals, that we are not second-class citizens in our own state.”

Russell’s bill will be the subject of more debate and committee, House and Senate votes in the coming weeks. The bill requires support from two-thirds of the Legislature to move on to the ballot. — Christopher Cousins

George Mitchell in book-signing

There just aren’t a lot of chances to meet George Mitchell in person, and he’s a person you should meet.

I had a frenzied 20-minute interview with Mitchell in January of 2014 and it stands as one of the highlights of my career as a political reporter. As I hope you know, Mitchell is a former U.S. senator and Senate majority leader from 1989 to 1995, peace envoy to the Middle East and Northern Ireland, fix-it man for doping in Major League Baseball and for three years, chairman of the Walt Disney Company.

Now, Mitchell is on a tour to promote his new book “The Negotiator: Reflections on an American Life.” On Friday, May 15, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., that tour will take him to the Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta. At 5:30 p.m. the same day, Mitchell will make a similar appearance at Left Bank Books in Belfast.

“This is not a talk. It will be an informal opportunity to shake George Mitchell’s hand and chat,” reads a press release from the Damariscotta bookstore. That’s a rare opportunity indeed.

Mitchell is also scheduled to speak about his book in a more formal setting at 5:30 p.m. on May 13 at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased from the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce either online or by calling 772-2811. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Maine-made dog treats lauded

If only your pooch could read, canine subscriptions to the Daily Brief would skyrocket today.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have announced that the Loyal Biscuit Co., which has dog and cat supply store locations in Belfast, Camden, Rockland and Waterville, is the winner of the State Small Business Award of 2015. The award is part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 52nd annual National Small Business Week.

The Loyal Biscuit Co., which is owned by Heidi Neal, specializes in healthy dog and cat nutrition. I’m going to be looking for some Loyal biscuits for my golden retriever, Boone, but don’t tell him they’re healthy. He prefers bacon. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.