Politics & Other Mistakes: Here it comes again

7 mins read

Is it possible to tax stupidity?

If so, Maine could generate enough revenue to eliminate the income tax, the property tax, the excise tax, the inheritance tax and the sales tax on everything except male enhancement products sold on TV.

Which is already a tax on stupidity.

But there are plenty of other instances of dopes not paying their dues. Where’s the surcharge on Democratic state Sen. Joe Perry, the sponsor of a bill to have the cash-strapped state borrow $25 million to help fund a new convention center in his hometown of Bangor? Republican state Sen. Richard Rosen of Bucksport ought to have to cough up a hefty toll for his legislation to outlaw the legally indefinable concept of road rage. Send a big bill to Democratic state Sen. Lisa Marrache of Waterville for introducing a measure requiring teens to get a doctor’s permission before using a tanning salon. And the Portland City Council should send a sizable contribution to the public coffers for …well, just for being the Portland City Council.

Al Diamon

As lucrative as all that might be, the biggest source of new revenue from the stupidity tax would come from the governor’s office. Democratic incumbent John Baldacci should be required to surrender his entire salary and his pants (hmmm, no sign of male enhancement here) just for his clunkheaded handling of a single issue:

Tax reform.

Baldacci has been promising to restructure the tax system since he was first elected in 2002. So far, he’s developed exactly zero plans to do that. All by itself, this inability to formulate a coherent approach wouldn’t be so bad, because other folks whose brain synapses fire a lot faster than the governor’s have come up with tax-reform proposals of their own. Trouble is, Baldacci is opposed to all those ideas.

First, there was the 2006 referendum on the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR). Drafted by a conservative think tank, this measure would have capped increases in government spending based on the rate of inflation and population growth, and returned over-collected levies to the people who paid them. TABOR was defeated at the polls in a close vote, in large part because the governor claimed it was bad public policy. He promised he’d come up with something better.

He didn’t, but the Legislature gave it a try. In 2007, several, mostly liberal lawmakers proposed cutting the income tax, broadening the sales tax, raising the meals and lodging tax and other assorted tinkering. Baldacci was silent on the bill until the final two weeks of the legislative session, when he announced his opposition because the plan didn’t reduce state spending.

The governor had just signed a new budget that increased spending by more than $450 million.

Shortly after the Legislature adjourned, a gubernatorial spokesman told the Kennebec Journal “Work is going on on tax reform. We’re having conversations about how to proceed.”

A few weeks passed, and Baldacci admitted to the Associated Press that he had, “No firm plans yet.”

A month after that, one of his top aides was quoted in the Portland Press Herald as saying, “[T]here’s no real consensus yet.”

And there still isn’t.

Baldacci continues to mention tax reform, but always with the admonition that it’ll be almost impossible to achieve in this economic climate.

True enough – if your IQ is lower than the air temperature.

Democrats in the Legislature are still tinkering with their tax-shift scheme (this time they won’t have to worry about cutting state spending because the recession has done that for them) and may bring it to a vote this spring. Meanwhile that conservative think tank, the Maine Heritage Policy Center, has revised TABOR and collected enough signatures to get the streamlined version on the ballot, probably this November.

Once again, TABOR calls for capping the amount state and local government spending can increase.

It’s difficult to figure how the governor could be opposed to that, since, given the economic meltdown, state spending isn’t going to grow, TABOR or not, for the foreseeable future. In the unlikely event some elected body composed of seriously dumb people (in no way am I referring here to the Portland City Council – exclusively) decided to pass a budget that exceeded the TABOR cap (which it could do by a simple majority vote, assuming it could figure out what a majority of nine is), that budget would have to be submitted to the voters for approval. Also, all tax increases would have to be put to a public vote.

You were able to understand all that, right?

Good, you won’t have to pay the stupidity tax.

As for Baldacci, he has no one but himself to blame for allowing others to steal the momentum on tax reform. He had years to act and didn’t.

I’d suggest he take medication for gubernatorial enhancement, but the sales tax on that sucker is so steep, I doubt he could afford it.

Particularly since he left his wallet in his pants.

Perk up my …uh, interest by e-mailing comments to aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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