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Credit where it’s due: Democrats dragged Republicans toward a fair budget

One way you know it’s election season is that politicians and candidates start coming out of the woodwork to claim victory on all fronts. Everyone wants to be associated with successes and distance themselves from failures. It’s natural. But it’s up to all of us to keep an eye on the truth.

I’m not running for re-election this year. I’m leaving the Legislature after 16 years of service to focus on my family and my career. But I still care very much about the facts, and I want to make sure that if credit is to be claimed, that it’s only being claimed by people who deserve it.

I’ve served on the Taxation and Appropriations committees. I’ve been on the frontline of many budget and tax negotiations over the years, including last year’s budget deal. And I want to say one thing as loudly, clearly and bluntly as possible: Be very skeptical of Republicans who say how proud they were to support this Legislature’s action to lower Mainers’ property tax bills, increase funding for education, protect critical programs for seniors and cut taxes for working and middle-class families.

The truth is those initiatives were products of Democrats’ budget proposals. Republicans fought us every step of the way, until the political pressure to do the right thing was just too great for them to keep fighting.

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I’ve been a businesswoman for a long time, and I’ve been a homeowner in Saco for many years. I want tax cuts as much as anyone. But I also know that tax reform has to smart, fair and balanced.

Smart tax cuts are those that consider the entire tax base — the income tax that affects primarily the wealthy, and the sales and property taxes that disproportionately affect working and middle-class Mainers. Fair tax cuts are ones that fit together, across all revenue streams, to spread the tax relief among all Mainers, not just the top 1 percent. Balanced tax relief is the kind that’s paid for without slashing important services, such as education, road and bridge maintenance, and public safety.

Those were the guiding principles that led Democrats to take the lead on the budget and the tax reforms it contained. Our “Better Deal for Maine” formed the framework of this year’s budget, improving on Republicans proposals by ensuring the budget benefitted working families all over our state.

Altogether, our budget provided a $135 million tax cut, with 75 percent of the reduction distributed among the bottom 90 percent of income earners. We doubled the standard deduction and made the Earned Income Tax Credit fully refundable, two initiatives that benefit low- and middle-income families — not the super-rich.

The budget included $80 million in new investments for K-12 education, $10 million for scholarships for Maine college students, and $25 million in new funding for our community colleges, which are succeeding every day in connecting Mainers with jobs and further educational opportunities.

The budget was a huge win for Maine families — and a far cry from the plan offered by the Republicans in the Legislature.

Led by Senate President Michael Thibodeau and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, Republicans pushed a plan full of tax cuts for the rich, paid for by low-income Mainers and the working poor. According to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, their plan would have been a boon for the top 20 percent of Mainers — people with incomes over $89,000 per year. The top 1 percent would have benefitted most of all — their annual tax liability would have fallen by more than $8,000 per year.

Everyone else? They would have simply footed the bill.

Not only would regular Mainers have paid for a tax cuts for the rich, but they would have suffered stagnation in their local community. The Republican budget included no new investment in education. It cut funding for local services like snow plowing, police and fire departments. It did nothing to ease the burden of property taxes.

In the end, lawmakers soundly rejected the Republicans’ giveaway to the rich. The budget we ultimately passed was smart, fair and balanced. Feeling the political pressure, many Republicans supported it, too. That can’t be taken away from them.

But Mainers can remind them how far we had to drag them, kicking and screaming, toward a budget and a tax policy that was smart, fair and balanced.

Sen. Linda Valentino of Saco is the lead Senate Democrat on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.


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