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Happy together

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  July 29, 2009

There's an easy way to make everyone happy.

Well, not exactly happy. It's more like an easy way to make everyone mildly unhappy. But that's an improvement over the current situation in which everyone is thoroughly disgusted. Except, maybe, Harry Potter fans.

The happiness plan I'm talking about involves compromise, and compromise isn't pretty. In fact, most compromises are so ugly they don't dare post their photos with their personals ads on dating Web sites, because they'd frighten away potential life partners and scare little children who have defeated the parental controls on their computers and are cruising the Internet pretending to be lonely 43-year-old divorced people seeking soul mates who like public radio, long walks on the beach, Hello Kitty sneakers, and Left 4 Dead gaming marathons.

Unlike compromises, they get a fair number of matches.

If there are people desperate enough for companionship to consider going out with somebody with a feline fetish and a collection of age-inappropriate games on Wii, there are obviously plenty of folks open to the ugliest imaginable forms of compromise. Such as this:

The Complete And Comprehensive — But Not The Least Bit Redundant — Democratic And Republican (Although Not The Green Independents Or Other Fringy Types, Because, Honestly, Who Cares Whether They Like It) Tax Reform AND Tax Relief Program Including A Soon-To-Be-Much-Acclaimed Universal Panacea And Stimulus For Maine's Economy.

If that sounds like something sold out of the back of a horse-drawn wagon at a 19th-century medicine show, just keep in mind that compromises are easier to swallow when you wash them down with a little snake oil. Alcohol helps, too. Make it a double.

Last session, the Democratic majority in the Legislature passed a tax-reform bill that lowers the income-tax rate. Anyone who doesn't think that's a swell idea is a couple of Froot Loops shy of a breakfast. No compromise needed on that point.

But here's where it gets tricky. In order to make up the revenue lost from not taxing income, the Dems expanded the sales tax and increased the meals and lodging tax.

A broader sales tax is a good idea for two reasons: 1) Unlike the current system, which is heavily dependent on sales of cars and home-improvement products, a wider tax is less susceptible to economic downturns, and 2) it's more likely to hit tourists.

And who doesn't like hitting tourists?

But once the economy recovers, the revised sales tax could produce a lot more revenue, which could lead to a bigger state budget. As Republican Party operative Cynthia Izon put it in a July 2 op-ed in the Bangor Daily News, "The 'tax reform' legislation allows the Democrats to claim that they support reforming our laws, while at the same time positioning themselves to continue spending at a level unaffordable or unsustainable in future years."

It's not just a few right-wing wackos in the GOP that have raised this concern. Similar complaints have come from right-wing wackos in the business community (particularly those segments of the business community that will be forced for the first time to charge the expanded sales tax) and from left-wing wackos, such as Democratic Governor John Baldacci. In April, the Kennebec Journal reported that David Farmer, Baldacci's spokesman, "said the governor wants to see the [tax-reform] plan include strengthened caps on spending at the state, county and municipal levels."

Being a guy with an incredibly short attention span, Baldacci didn't actually use the threat of a veto to force the bill's sponsors to include such a cap. He merely strong-armed them into removing the sales tax on ski tickets.

Nevertheless, Baldacci had the right idea. (I believe that's the first time those words have ever appeared in this column. I promise it won't happen again.) All that's needed to make the Democrats' bill into real tax reform is some mechanism to make sure that once the recession ends, this legislation doesn't become an excuse for soaking the taxpayers.

And, oddly enough, such a mechanism is readily at hand. In fact, it's on the November ballot. Vote to keep same-sex marriage illegal, and you'll be preserving traditional taxation, like in the Bible.

Sorry, I got caught up in the homophobic hysteria. Preventing gay men and lesbians from tying the knot won't help reduce the tax burden. Unless you count the sales tax you won't have to pay on wedding presents.

What will do the trick is the revised Taxpayers' Bill of Rights. It limits the growth in state spending based on the increase in inflation and population growth. It requires the voters to approve budgets that exceed that level, as well as any tax increases. And it mandates that most excess revenue be used to reduce taxes.

That's the compromise: Keep the tax-reform law Republicans are trying to repeal. Pass the spending-limit initiative Democrats don't like.

Something for everybody to hate.


Happiness is a hot e-mail from you to me at

Related: My aim is true, Here it comes again, The wrong man for hard times, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, Politics,  More more >
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