Gov. Paul LePage is under fire for his characterization of how a new 3 percent surcharge to fund education will affect wealthy Mainers.
LePage was challenged on his facts by an audience member during his town hall meeting Monday in Fort Kent, his latest stop in a campaign that he hopes will convince state lawmakers to repeal the surcharge approved by voters in November.
LePage spent Monday waging an all-day, multimedia public relations campaign against the perils of the education surcharge. It began with his weekly interview with Bangor radio station WVOM. Then came a lengthy press conference on taxes at the State House.
LePage then traveled to Fort Kent for a town hall meeting, where he appeared to assert that Mainers making $200,000 or more will be hit with an income tax of over 10 percent.
In a recording provided to Maine Public Radio by a member of the audience, a man can be heard attempting to correct the governor’s accounting.
“No, that’s not correct. The 3 percent of that is only on the incremental revenue above $200,000,” he said.
LePage did not appear persuaded.
“It’s the full $200,000. It’s 10 percent for the full amount, sir,” he said.
LePage seemed to insist that those making $200,000 will have their entire earnings hit with a 10.15 percent income tax — that’s 7.15 percent for the current top rate, plus 3 percent for the new education surcharge.
But that’s not correct, according to law approved by voters in November. According to the law, the education surcharge applies only to earnings above $200,000.
“If you have income of $200,001, only one dollar is subject to the 3 percent surcharge. It’s only the income that’s over $200,000,” says Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget writing committee.
Gattine says LePage misled the Fort Kent audience by overstating the effect of the surcharge, and he says the governor’s comments follow a pattern of inaccurate statements.
“At the very least I would hope that he’s going to present accurate, factual information to people and when he doesn’t, we’re just going to have to correct him on the record,” he says.
In a statement, the governor’s spokesman Peter Steele says he didn’t mislead the audience and that he understands how the surcharge works. Steele says the governor was trying to make the point that the surcharge punishes success.
Gattine and Democrats are preparing for a high-stakes budget battle with LePage over the surcharge, which will be used to create a pool of money to boost funding for education.
Republicans want to eliminate it because they believe it will lead to tax flight by high earners and professionals, such as doctors and engineers.
On Tuesday, LePage presented over two dozen letters from a range of professionals urging him to get rid of the surcharge. And a representative for the Maine Medical Association has previously said that the surcharge could hurt the recruitment of doctors, especially in rural areas.
LePage’s two-year budget effectively delays the surcharge for a year before eventually making Maine’s highest and lowest earners pay for it. His proposal has received a chilly reception in the Legislature.
Meanwhile, budget negotiations between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled House continue. And that’s where the fate of the voter-approved surcharge will likely be decided.