Republican radio address

For the weekend of June 12-13, 2010

Greetings, this is Kathy Chase, state representative from Wells.

Political shock waves are still rumbling across the state after the stunning Election Day revolt against a new tax law. By a landslide majority of 61 percent, Maine voters repealed a highly controversial tax reform scheme passed last year by the majority Democrats in the Legislature over strong Republican objections. We stressed that what Maine residents want is tax relief, not a wildly complicated overhaul of the entire tax system. When we could not convince them to write a commonsense tax plan, we offered our own alternatives, only to see them quickly rejected. As a last resort, after the governor signed the bill into law, Republicans and Green Independents teamed up for a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot for a People’s Veto. Few people thought it was possible to gather the 55,000 signatures needed in the short time allowed, but a big grassroots operation swung into action.

For the Democrats, this is a staggering defeat. They worked on their plan for four years. As the ranking Republican on the Taxation Committee, I had a ringside seat as it took shape. The chief architect was Representative John Piotti, the House majority leader. The scheme had the strong backing of House Speaker Hannah Pingree and Senate President Libby Mitchell. The governor was so enthusiastic that he bragged about it during his State of the State address.

The group fighting against the repeal, the absurdly named No Higher Taxes for Maine, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Money poured in from some of Maine’s richest citizens, the very people who would have reaped a disproportionate share of the benefits. But the biggest chunk of cash came from Wall Street, from a hedge fund manager. The Democrats used all that money to fill the airwaves with commercials designed to confuse and frighten Maine residents. Their most outrageous and dishonest claim was that if voters repealed the law, their taxes would go up 30 percent. Obviously, if the new tax system was repealed, taxes would stay right where they were.

Naturally, the state employees’ union worked overtime to keep the new law on the books. They knew it was a tax increase masquerading as a tax cut. Their interest is in maximizing tax revenue, because they are worried about a $4 billion shortfall in their pension fund.

That wasn’t the only support the Democrats had. As we approached Election Day, nearly every major newspaper in Maine ran editorials advising readers to reject the repeal – the Maine Sunday Telegram, the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal, the Brunswick Times Record, the Lewiston Sun Journal, the Bangor Daily News and others. The folks running the repeal effort had patiently explained the fatal flaws in the tax plan, but those newspapers plowed ahead with their deceptive and misleading editorials as if the facts didn’t matter. You might think they were part of the Democratic Party. One exception was the Ellsworth American, which initially favored the plan but switched to opposition when they learned the truth.

But the Democrats played their top card on the ballot itself. The wording of Question One was designed to further cloud the issue and steer people to vote “no.” The Secretary of State could have presented voters with a clear and straightforward question. Instead, he described the new taxes on more than 100 services and activities simply as “changes” to downplay the negative.

Despite all that money and support, the Democrats got trounced on Tuesday. More than 314,000 Mainers voted on Question One. That’s 60,000 more people than voted in both gubernatorial primaries – combined. Thousands of unenrolled voters turned out just to kill this tax scheme. For Augusta’s entrenched Democratic elites, the results could not have been more disastrous. Representative Piotti, the driving force behind the law, lost his own hometown of Unity. State Senator Joe Perry, another prime mover behind the scheme, saw the law demolished in his hometown of Bangor.

All over Maine, voters said “no way” to a plan that eliminated the mortgage interest deduction, threw sales taxes on thousands of small businesses, and gave huge tax cuts to millionaires while leaving chickenfeed for average working families. It imposed sales taxes on car repairs and diaper services but exempted ski tickets and golf greens fees. And it crushed the poor and elderly on fixed incomes.

This repeal was a major victory for common sense. To their credit, Maine voters saw through the deliberate confusion surrounding the issue and did the right thing. With this monstrosity out of the way, the next Legislature can work on a plan that is fair to everyone.

This is Kathy Chase. Thank you for listening.