Want to pay less in taxes? Start by paying more.
I know, that reads like a line from the Democratic Party's state platform, but it's not. In fact, it's a concept supported by, among others, Republican Governor Paul LePage.
Right there, the idea runs into trouble, because as far as lots of Mainers are concerned, if LePage is in favor of it, they're against it. So let me hasten to add that this proposal is also backed by independent US Senator Angus King, Democratic US Representative Chellie Pingree, and large segments of the business community. In fact, the only ones opposing it are the Maine Heritage Policy Center (motto: No — To Everything), some New Hampshire politicians (motto: Live Free — Off Out-Of-State Liquor Sales) and my friend Culpepper (motto: Screw That).
The policy center's position is easy to understand. It believes more taxes — on anything, for any reason — are bad. Period.
New Hampshire's stand is consistent with its opposition to any tax except an excessive one on property.
And Culpepper (a real person, but not a real name) isn't buying into this deal, because, as a small businessman in rural Maine, he's spent years figuring out ways not to pay the taxes he owes.
Which makes him part of the problem.
Culpepper and the rest of the state's cash-only, underground economy don't contribute their share of sales and income taxes, so the rest of us have to pay more. By the rest of us, I don't actually mean me, because I regularly buy taxable stuff from Culpepper on which no tax is charged. He in turn neglects to include that transaction on his income tax form. And everybody's happy. Except for those of you who have to cough up a little extra to make up for Culpepper and me cutting corners.
If we all acted in strict accordance with the state's tax laws, the government would take in so much additional income there'd be no budget shortfall, no need to cut off revenue sharing to cities and towns, no plans to shift education costs to local school districts, no problem paying back the debt owed to hospitals, and no reason not to expand Medicaid. In other words, those piffle-headed excuses for noxious bacteria that run Augusta would spend every penny of it. And more.
By paying more in taxes, we'd end up paying . . . more. Because nobody, except possibly LePage, would actually advocate using that extra money to lower income-tax rates or reduce the percentage we pay in sales tax.
As we should have known, there's no cash reward for being more honest. And if there were, it would be taxed.
Which brings us back to the idea I hinted at above. Congress is currently considering a bill that would require online retailers who do at least $1 million in business annually to collect sales taxes from all their customers. If it passes, it means that every time you buy something from Amazon.com or eBay, you'll be charged the same 5 percent tax you'd have to pay if you bought the identical item at a store in Maine.