Sunday, March 9, 2014
BOWDOINHAM -- Simplifying Maine's tax code is a priority for both candidates in the race for House District 67, but they have very different ideas about how to do it.
Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, wants to ensure that wealthy people pay at least as high an effective tax rate as middle-income, working families, and he supports a mix of income and sales taxes.
Republican challenger Corey Troup, who also lives in Bowdoinham, favors abolishing Maine's income tax and running the state on sales tax revenue.
Berry, 43, is the top-ranking Democrat on the Legislature's Taxation Committee. He said Democrats and Republicans were able to agree on some measures in the last Legislature, including legislation Berry sponsored to prohibit sales-tax-evasion devices known as "zappers."
But Berry and other Democrats opposed several other tax bills they said would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Mainers.
"We did a lot together, but I do find that the hardest area to agree is on the whole question of how much people should pay as a share of their income," Berry said. "I think it's very important for us to understand that our tax burden is falling most heavily on those people who can least afford it."
Berry said he evaluates changes to the tax code on their simplicity and fairness. Replacing the income tax with a sales tax only could be simpler, Berry said, but it would not be fair.
"There are a lot of studies that show that the sales tax is very regressive, that it falls on the middle class and on working families," he said. "So it's hard to make a pure consumption tax work. Most economists tell us that we need to have a balanced system that is a combination of income tax and sales."
Troup, 38, said he wants to lower overall rates of taxation and does not think the sales tax would harm people on the bottom end of the income scale.
"I think if you took out the income tax and had a sales tax, that way people have a choice," he said. "You have more of a choice and control over your money. That way, if you don't want to lose more money, you don't have to spend."
Troup has worked in construction and in management at Aubuchon Hardware stores. He now works at the Home Depot in Topsham and said his management experience, as well as spending his whole career in the private sector, would be an asset in Augusta.
He ran for a Senate seat in Lewiston in 2008 but lost to Democrat Margaret Craven by nearly 50 percentage points. Troup is running a privately financed campaign and has raised $925.
Troup's priorities include cutting taxes and reducing regulations on small businesses. He said Maine can save money by running government agencies more efficiently and reducing welfare expenses through rooting out fraud and tightening limits on eligibility.
He thinks benefits should be limited to U.S. citizens who have lived in Maine for at least a year.
Troup said that based on his conversations with out-of-state visitors, he believes Maine has lost its reputation for producing hard workers.
"Now you go around the country, and what do people know Maine for? We're one of the highest welfare states," Troup said. "We're creating a lifestyle, a career move out of it, and I think that robs people of their pride."
Troup said he also supports environmental protections and investments into alternative energy sources such as wind, tidal power and hydropower.
Berry, a former public school teacher, is a vice president at Kennebec River Biosciences in Richmond. He is running a publicly financed campaign for a fourth term as representative.
In the 125th Legislature, Berry sponsored successful legislation reinstating tax rebates for small solar- or wind-energy installations and banning the synthetic drug known as "bath salts."
For long-term economic growth, Maine needs to invest in infrastructure and early childhood education, Berry said, because both will provide a return many times larger than what the state spends.
"We owe it to every child in Maine to make sure that they have a medical provider, that they have adequate nutrition, and that they have a provider of care during the day who is human, not electronic, not the television, and who interacts with them," he said. "Too many children in Maine are still going without those basic things, and we all lose because of it."
Susan McMillan -- 621-5645