The closing argument from the Yes on 2 campaign last year arguing for a new 3% tax on income over $200,000 to fund K-12 education wasn’t an ad featuring crumbling Maine schools (although there are plenty) or discussing the societal benefits of investment in education (which are many). No, it was this commercial, featuring a stereotypical millionaire (complete with suit and cellphone) making the case for fair taxes.
This was a strategic decision from the Stand Up for Students campaign based on the fact that, while voters do strongly support funding local education, they support higher taxes on the wealthy even more.
In their messaging research (which the campaign was kind enough to let me review), arguments about the wealthy contributing their fair share of taxes polled about ten percentage points higher than even those about fully funding schools to give all kids a quality education.
For anyone familiar with public opinion on tax policy, these results shouldn’t be surprising. In poll after poll, nationally and in Maine, the biggest problem people have when asked about the tax system isn’t that they themselves pay too much, it’s that the wealthy and large corporations don’t pay enough.
Working and middle-class people understand, on a fundamental level, that the tax system is biased against them, and they’re absolutely right. In fact, even with the passage of Question 2 and the new 3% surcharge on income over $200,000, Maine’s wealthiest 1% are still paying a lower effective tax rate than the middle class.
That’s why it’s so baffling that Republican leaders in the legislature and Governor Paul LePage have chosen this issue as their hill to die on in the current budget negotiations. They have made undoing Question 2 and giving a massive new tax break solely to Maine’s top 2% of income earners their only pre-condition, even going so far as to threaten a government shutdown if they don’t get their way.
So, not only are they attempting to cut taxes for the wealthy, they’re flagrantly violating the very-recently-expressed will of Maine voters in pursuit of that end.
They may have the votes to pursue a strategy like this within the hallowed halls of the State House – cutting taxes for the wealthy seems to have somehow become a bedrock principle for Republican legislators and they’re in a bubble where they’re mostly hearing from wealthy lobbyists at the moment – but it’s not going to play well in the rest of the state or during the next election.
I imagine that won’t be the last time we see a tax-shirking millionaire in a TV ad.