Vindictive Paul LePage Harasses Environmental Nonprofit

Main Governor Paul LePage is no stranger to controversy. The Tea Party executive has stumbled into a number of embarrassing situations with his penchant for unfiltered, expressive, and often bigoted proclamations.

When discussing Maine’s opioid epidemic, LePage blamed out-of-state drug dealers who travel to the state to sell heroine, claiming that “half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.”

He has also compared the IRS’s actions to those committed by the Gestapo during the Holocaust, and suggested that Maine State Sen. Troy Jackson – a political rival – was the kind of person who would “give it to the people without providing Vaseline.” The illusion to forced sexual penetration is jarring indeed.

Recent scare tactics deployed by the governor only further underscore his violent and unstatesman-like character, revealing him to be a strongman leader with little patience for dissent or the right of nonprofit groups to operate free of government harassment.

According to The National Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) – the state’s largest environmental nonprofit – LePage has targeted the group’s donors in a smear campaign. The governor’s office has purportedly sent letters out to the group’s supporters, imploring them to cease their financial assistance for NRCM for its opposition to LePage’s thoroughly anti-environmental agenda.

Lisa Pohlmann – the organization’s executive director – explained the atmosphere of intimidation resulting from LePage’s anti-democratic behavior:

Over the past months the governor has produced and publicly displayed a wanted poster about NRCM, attacked us by name in dozens of speeches and radio addresses, and now this week has sent dozens of NRCM members a harassment letter about NRCM…We were founded by Maine people, and after working for 57 years in Maine we can say with total confidence that Gov. LePage is the most anti-environment governor in our history.

This isn’t LePage’s first assault on nonprofits. Last year, he attempted to increase taxation of nonprofit groups in order to cut taxes for large businesses. His proposed plan would affect food banks, Girl Scout troops, and veterans associations.

The loose-cannon LePage appears to possess the mercurial characteristics of his preferred presidential candidate Donald Trump, who he endorsed earlier than many other GOP elected officials.

Common sense would have it that LePage’s intimidation campaign could turn into a potentially ruinous scandal. Considering his political survival to this point, however, it may make no more a difference then his blatant racism. 

Maine Nonprofits Face Hefty Property Tax

In a move to cut state taxes, Maine Gov. Paul LePage has provoked the ire of a number of his state’s towns and nonprofits.

Ending state revenue sharing with municipalities is an essential component of the governor’s proposal. The revenue sharing system currently in place helps keep property taxes down across the state, enabling towns to tap into state resources to pay for vital services. In order to make up revenue lost in his budget plan, LePage hopes to implement a regressive sales tax increase and to begin charging property taxes on nonprofits that possess $500,000 or more in land holdings.

LePage’s budget plan would reduce income tax of the wealthiest citizens – slashing the rate from 7.95 percent to 5.75 percent – and terminate the estate tax. Analysts predict that the proposal will take up a lion’s share of the state legislature’s attention this session, describing the plan as a cornerstone of the governor’s agenda.

According to the Maine Municipal Association, most towns and cities would suffer from the legislation, compelling local governments to hike taxes in order to pay for services including education and snowplowing. Communities with large nonprofit institutions – from scientific labs to private colleges – could theoretically benefit from the scheme, albeit at the expense of these organizations. Rural areas with low concentrations of nonprofits would likely feel a squeeze and witness property tax increases as well as service cuts.

Maine has 86,000 individuals working for charities and nonprofits state-wide. Of these workers, 37 percent are employed by hospitals, which consist of four out of ten of the state’s largest employers. Hospitals would pay up to $20 million under the tax proposal. A number of other nonprofit institutions – including colleges, museums, summer camps, veterans’ fraternal groups, food pantries, and shelters – would be adversely affected by the property tax expansion.

In South Portland, the American Legion Post and the Girl Scouts stand to lose out due to the high value of their properties. Another nonprofit – Auburn’s Good Shepherd Food Bank – announced that the tax would force it to cut its free meal distribution by 100,000 units. Shalom House, which provides mental health services, would face a $90,000 tax bill, drastically curtailing its services.

Private colleges and schools would face large tax increases. Berwick Academy – the oldest private school in the state – maintains property valued at $14 million, meaning that the governor’s plan would compel the school to pay a six-figure tax. Berwick Academy’s small endowment falls far short of the funds necessary for this expense. The school would have to slash financial aid, reduce staff, and raise tuition in order to cope.

The property tax would not apply to religious groups or government-owned institutions. The list of potential parties affected by the tax, however, is extensive, and could hit nonprofit cemeteries – which often possess highly valued land – community theaters, and land trusts. Additionally, nonprofits that receive bequeathed property could face steep taxes, diminishing the intended value of philanthropic gifts.

The plan appears to be part of a larger trend of states tapping into nonprofits to provide for revenue shortfalls or tax cuts. The nonprofit sector is worth billions of dollars, and may seem to be a prime target for taxation. Take the current New Hampshire legislation which aims to apply the state’s Business Enterprise Tax to nonprofit institutions. This strategy poses great risks, considering that nonprofits’ tax-exempt status is one of the chief reasons why they are capable of providing essential services otherwise neglected by the private sector. With scores of nonprofits facing radical tax hikes, the availability and efficacy of their services are under threat, as well as the livelihoods of nonprofit workers.

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