Don't make promises

Paul LePage's disastrous mistake
By AL DIAMON  |  February 24, 2010

In writing a weekly political column, you learn not to use the first paragraph to make extravagant claims you can't possibly deliver on. Such tantalizing come-ons at the start of a piece — Republican US senator Susan Collins once posed naked for Popular Mechanics magazine, causing its circulation to plummet — just set up readers for disappointment, when, after 850 words have slipped by, there's no further information on how to download a complete set of those photos for their historical archives.

The experienced columnist knows enough to ease into the outrageous stuff, the stuff no one in their right mind would ever believe — Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud is actually an intelligent guy with a quick wit and many original ideas — in the second paragraph. Or, sometimes, the third.

Which is where we are. So here goes: Waterville mayor Paul LePage has done something no other serious contender for the GOP gubernatorial nomination has dared. LePage has released a detailed plan to reform Maine's tax structure.

Detailed. Also, deranged.

LePage needs to scuttle back to his real job as general manager of Marden's Surplus & Salvage, and commiserate with the wacky shopping lady from the TV commercials by seeing who can fake the worst Maine accent.

They are both faking. Right?

LePage's disastrous mistake was the same one fledgling columnists often make. He promised way too much way too soon. He should have waited until much closer to the June primary before explaining how he'd bankrupt the state. Or offering supporters a Susan Collins photo portfolio.

I'm jesting, of course. LePage doesn't even have the best shot. The one with the lug wrenches. Or so I'm told.

In his recent e-mail newsletter, LePage pledged to do the following things (and I'm not kidding, even though, by the third or fourth item, you're going to think like I am):

-Reduce the state personal income tax to a flat 5 percent. Anyone who makes less than $30,000 a year will pay nothing.

-Reduce the corporate income tax to 5 percent on profits of $30,000 to $500,000. Below that, there's no tax. Above that, companies pay just 4 percent.

-Reduce all "sin" taxes (he doesn't define the term, but I assume his definition is broader than mine) by at least 25 percent.

-Phase out all personal property taxes over four years, beginning in 2012.

-Provide a rebate to every homeowner for part of the remaining property tax. Eliminate the Homestead Exemption for low-income property-tax payers.

-Adjust Maine's tax deductions for inflation and conform the state's charitable-deduction rules with those of the feds.

-Base the excise tax on cars on the purchase price, rather than the list price. Reduce the tax by 20 percent every year.

My best estimate is that if the LePage plan is ever fully implemented, state and local governments would end up with less than two-thirds of the revenue they have now. Which seems to indicate LePage plans to get rid of more than a third of state and local government.

So far, he hasn't offered any specifics, but closing every high school and middle school in the state might come close to balancing the municipal books. If it didn't snow too much.

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