aine progressive groups are at it again. After the November 2016 passage of a new surcharge tax on the state’s “wealthiest” residents to provide additional funding to public education there is a new ballot initiative pushing for yet another tax on the same group. The newest tax would supposedly provide funding for senior home care, elderly home repairs and other services. Kevin Miller of the Portland Press Herald reports…
AUGUSTA — Opponents of a ballot initiative that would raise taxes on wealthier Mainers to pay for home care for the elderly and disabled said Wednesday the referendum question violates the Maine Constitution and federal privacy laws.
In November, Maine voters will consider a proposal to impose an additional tax on income above $128,400 to expand services such as home health care aides, home repair, hospice care and transportation. The “Act To Establish Universal Home Care for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities,” the proposal from the Maine People’s Alliance, is the latest example of progressive groups using Maine’s citizen initiative process to attempt to achieve policy victories at the ballot box rather than through the Legislature.
Oh the irony. There are undoubtedly a number of small home care agencies that generate more than $128,400 in income for its owner(s). Knowing how difficult it is to run a successful home care business, providing adequate, affordable health care is quite challenging given the current climate of federal and state regulations, third-party payers, including Medicare and Medicaid as well as private insurance. The home care business consumes the dedicated and conscientious folks who operate within it. Does a hardworking home care agency owner who earns $130,000 a year deserve to be taxed (yet again) to provide of all things, home care services?
But at a news conference Wednesday at the State House in Augusta, representatives of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Hospital Association and several attorneys called the referendum “deeply flawed” and warned of serious consequences if voters pass it in November. Offering a glimpse of their campaign strategy over the next six months, opponents accused the Maine People’s Alliance and other supporters of pushing a risky ballot initiative without allowing for a public hearing in the Legislature.
“It needs to be known that this initiative creates more harm than help for the very populations of people it intends to serve,” said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “It over-promises and under-delivers while at the same time creating chaos to our economy by pushing a tax rate for many to nearly 11 percent.”
Former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Daniel Wathen called the referendum “deeply unconstitutional in many respects.” Wathen said the proposal would allow private entities to elect people to serve on the board that would administer the program when the power to elect or appoint such individuals is “a sovereign power of the state.”
“In effect, it would result in nine privately elected persons from within the home health care industry controlling this $310 million project with no one being accountable to the citizens,” Wathen said. “A 1984 opinion of the attorney general found a similar proposal unconstitutional and I believe that this would be struck down, without question.”
Tyranny is never far away when you start privately electing unaccountable boards to “manage” resources for the people.
But Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance said the Universal Home Care Trust Fund Board is merely using a model that Maine already employs for several other boards – including the Maine Potato Board – whose members are not elected or appointed by the state.
Ok, I think managing people is a bit different than managing potatoes. Resources are always better managed by people who are held to account.
Kathleen Healy, an attorney at the firm Verrill Dana who specializes in health care law, raised concerns that the referendum could violate federal Health Information Privacy, or HIPAA, rules by allowing disclosure of client information. The proposal would allow “constituency associations” – groups of agencies, personal caregivers or clients wanting to advocate before the board – to have access to names and contact information for individuals within that constituency for purposes of inviting them to join the association and participate in board elections.
Oh my gosh, sounds like the Facebook privacy debacle all over again – but with HIPPA information!
Healy equated that to “electioneering and campaigning” and noted there is no exception under HIPAA or other federal privacy laws for such activities.
“The referendum’s requirement that the names and contact information of Maine’s elderly and disabled populations, without their permission, be shared for election purposes is in all likelihood a violation of federal medical privacy law,” Healy said. “The referendum was not reviewed or considered in the customary manner, and I am not aware of another state that has a similar law.”
Tipping tried to refute any suggestion that the referendum would allow the disclosure of private medical information. He pointed to language in the referendum’s draft legislation saying the board may adopt rules “for the confidentiality of lists.” Additionally, the legislation would require that constituency associations “maintain the confidentiality of the list and may not share the list with the public or any other entity not authorized by the board.”
Attorney Jonathan Block, who specializes in tax law at the firm Pierce Atwood, said the referendum would give Maine the third-highest tax rate in the nation for upper earners. And as a result, Maine would be “so far out in left field compared to other states that we would not be able to compete for talent,” Block said.
In an interview, Tipping responded that the referendum would only apply to the wealthiest 1.6 percent of Mainers, and that the issue of affordable home-based care is an important one because of Maine’s aging population.
Non sequitur. The issue of home care being important because of Maine’s aging population has nothing to do with claiming a right to tax people for it. Many Mainers are actually middle class folks who come from other parts of the country to retire. By virtue of a simple move (from New Jersey for example) to this state they are now labeled “wealthy” and thus responsible for an increasing number of new taxes. This comes after the state actually provided some recent tax relief to citizens. Progressives are looking to take back some of that relief through fiat disguised as democracy.
“This is a group of wealthy executives and lobbyists who don’t want to lose their tax loophole,” said Tipping, noting that Maine’s top tax rate has fallen several times under Gov. Paul LePage. “It is a popular grassroots issue and they (choose) to tell lies about it to stop it and to preserve their tax cuts.”
It’s funny, people like this guy talk out of theory or their own understanding of the realities faced by tax payers. They don’t have a clue when they lump the top tier altogether, as if a household earning $129,000 can be deemed rich. Does that salary make someone very comfortable in Maine? Yes. Does it make them wealthy? No, not even close. The problem is, as with all taxes, there are not enough truly wealthy people to tax. There aren’t enough people making 250K, 500K or 1 Million per year or more. So, the progressives must go down the ladder and claim that upper middle class people making $128,500 are “wealthy”.
In November 2016, voters approved a 3 percent tax surcharge on wealthy Mainers in order to funnel additional money into public education. But lawmakers repealed that surcharge last year and increased education funding to offset some – but not all – of the revenues that would have flowed to schools under the ballot initiative.
Keep ganging up on the 1.6 percent – of which only a small percent is truly wealthy – and they will leave the state, decreasing the total of taxes taken in each year. This reaction is universal. Look what’s happening across the country in cities and states that over tax the so called wealthy. The middle class is leaving states like California at alarming rates. They can’t afford to live there anymore due to the costs of living and an increasingly heavy tax burden.
Image courtesy of The Press Herald
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