Mills, Moody Spar Over Releasing Tax Returns In Mostly Low-Key Gubernatorial Debate

Oct 18, 2018

The issue of government transparency became a flashpoint in Wednesday's televised gubernatorial forum in Augusta. And the focus turned to the candidates' tax returns.

The hour-long debate featuring all four candidates, was held at the Augusta Civic Center and televised by News Center Maine.

It produced familiar answers heard in previous forums, as Democrat Janet Mills, Republican Shawn Moody and independents Terry Hayes and Alan Caron discussed workforce issues, climate change and teacher pay.

But toward the end of the hour, moderator Pat Callaghan asked each candidate about whether they would  be open with the public and the press about public documents and their daily activities.

 "Gov. Paul LePage has frequently stonewalled the news media. The administration has frequently dragged its feet on freedom of information requests, has frequently refused to make the governor's travel schedule, or the costs associated with that travel, public. Do you plan to have an open-door policy for the media on behalf of the public, if you're governor, as previous governors have done?" Callaghan asked.

Hayes went first, promising that she would continue the standard of transparency she maintains in her role as state treasurer.

"I work on behalf of all of Mainers in my current job. You all pay my salary, OK?" Hayes said. "I feel it's my obligation ... if I don't know the answer I'm going to find it for you.

Moody , who has never held elected office, vowed this:  "I have an open door policy. I'll take the door right off the hinges. How's that?"

But Democrat Janet Mills, who is believed to be in a tight race with Moody, challenged Moody, nothing that he us the only candidate of the four not to release his tax returns.

"I'm waiting for Mr. Moody to provide his tax returns so we can all see that," Mills said. "As a first act of transparency I think it's important to look at his finances just as we've looked at our finances, too."

Moody responded by saying his decision not to disclose returns was based on concerns about revealing confidential information about his business, a chain of auto body repair shops that he says are 30 percent owned by his 200-plus employees.

And when Mills countered that Moody could at least reveal his real estate tax filings, Moody tossed a jab, saying that his taxes were more complicated Mills' and citing the fact that she sought an extension to file her 2017 returns.

"Our income taxes were not only filed on time, but our taxes were paid," Moody said. "I know your tax return, Janet, is probably a simple W-2. And you can postpone it for nine months, you can't even fill out a simple tax return on time. How do you explain that?" he said.

Mills shot back, "My taxes have been filed. My taxes have been paid."

In the context of the quiet, often lethargic 2018 gubernatorial race, the exchange between Mills and Moody seemed testy.  But the tensions were short-lived.

Independent Alan Caron used his response to answer the original question about transparency.

"I think the most important thing a governor can do is to communicate to the people of Maine and to the nation," Caron said. "This governor gets an F grade for communication, not just for locking the press out, but for the messages we've been sending to the country for the last seven or eight years, have been horrible. And it's got to stop," he said.

Caron, of course, was talking about Gov. Paul LePage, whose often tumultuous time in office is about to end.

And, on Nov. 6, so is the low-key race to succeed him.