Friday, April 13, 2007

Taxes in Maine: Impressions After My First Full Tax Year

When I was living those many years in MA and NH, I would often hear from my family how bad the taxes were in the state of Maine. When I was in NH, anything was probably worse (in the Tax Foundation 2007 report NH ranked 49th in overall taxes paid, above only Alaska). When I was in MA (in the Tax Foundation 2007 report ranked 28th in overall tax rate), which has had the nickname "Taxachusetts" for as long as I can remember, I remember thinking "How bad could they really be?"

Well after my first full tax year here, I can say the the overall tax burden here is not good. In the last report, Maine ranked right near the top, under only Vermont in overall tax rate. Think about that for a second. When I moved here from MA, my personal tax rate jumped over 3%. I don't own any property, so I can't speak on property taxes, but I think they are lower overall than those of say NH and MA. Car excise tax was roughly what I was paying in MA and NH, though it seemed to drop off quicker in Belmont, where I lived before moving back to Maine.

Where Maine really seems to get you is in all the things you don't immediately think about. Things like the city of Lewiston's policy of taxing all of your business' physical assets (even computers, desks, chairs and bookshelves). Things like, at least if I understood my accountant correctly, a Workers Compensation "tax" cost of over $250 per employee per MONTH. The more you find out, the more you start to understand why in Maine, small, vacation oriented businesses rule, and larger businesses that can move elsewhere, do. On top of all this, Maine also has a ridiculous "use tax" (something I strongly oppose) which requires you to pay sales tax on anything you purchased out of state. So with all this additional tax burden, do we get more from our state?

Not that I can see. True, the roads tend to be a little better overall. Driving around the Cambridge/Belmont/Watertown area in my car was a nightmare of potholes at every turn, waiting to swallow up my low profile tires, and here, if I stay on the high traffic roads and away from the frost heaves I have less trouble. But as far as overall services, I don't see that we're better off.

Granted, I still think the overall costs can be lower here. Property and rent costs are much lower here, as is car insurance (I saved 50% on my rent and car insurance when I moved here), but it depends somewhat on where you live too. Moving to Portland, a really nice little city, wouldn't have saved me nearly as much, if anything at all. But it all does really have me rethinking actually building a business here, not without major incentives from the city, or state.

But what REALLY kills me is that in every election, there are promises of "tax reform" and "tax easement" but to look at the numbers, you see that this is a total crock. Maine has had a top 5 overall tax rate 19 out of the last 20 years, actually ranking #1 for 5 straight years in the years 1997-2001.

Reading the report makes me wonder how MA got the "Taxachusetts" nickname in the first place. They have ranked no higher than 17th (in 1991) in overall tax burden in the last 20 years.

All tax burden data from Tax Foundation.

Snow Joke

Is this a picture from the middle of February? No this was taken today, on April 13th. This "Spring" has been brutal, with two significant snowfalls (around 8 inches last night, and 13+ inches last week) and below normal temperatures.

Remembering the Great Flood of 1987

I've been too busy to post this before now, but earier this month we passed the 20th anniversary of the Great Flood of 1987. Compare this photo to the header photo to see the difference in water levels. As fate would have it, I was actually in Portland for this entire week, so I missed the whole thing. I was doing an independent study week at WCSH in Portland with two friends of mine. If I remember correctly, they actually wanted to take us to our town with them to report on the flooding, but there was no way in, or out of the town of Rumford, which was hit even harder than Lewiston/Auburn because of ice jams, so really what I remember of the whole thing was photos and news footage.

On April 1, 1987, four days of rain combined with melting snow to create the worst flooding of the Androscoggin River since 1936. The river crested at a height of 23.66 feet, ten feet above flood stage and high enough to send water surging just below street level at the Longley Bridge. Although the flood did heavy damage in low-lying areas, no injuries were reported. The worst flooding in the state was in Augusta along the Kennebec River, which crested at 36 feet. (Sources: Lewiston Daily Sun, Lewiston Evening Journal, April 1 & 2, 1987.)

From a recent story on the flood:
The April Fools' Day flood of 1987 left many parts of Maine in ruins. In the western part of the state, where the Androscoggin River rose to 24 feet, destruction was widespread.

Two bridges washed away in Strong and another was destroyed in Farmington. In Wilton, a portion of a fire station crumbled beneath the might of rushing water.

In Lewiston and Auburn, the bridges withstood the rising river though aerial photographs showed that the water had risen right up to the deck of the Longley and South bridges. Powerful, churning water made its way into Heritage Park, covering park benches before the river receded.

In the Twin Cities, chaos came in many forms. Entire neighborhoods, like Little Canada at Lincoln and Cedar streets, had to be evacuated. Families took refuge in motels and looked to the American Red Cross for help.

In Auburn, Higgins Sports Center was among several buildings flooded when the Androscoggin rose over North River Road.

The river roared at 102,000 cubic square feet per second, causing some to flee in panic while others stood along river banks to witness the phenomenon. At Great Falls between Lewiston and Auburn, large crowds gathered as ferocious currents thundered over the falls. For two days, Great Falls was one of the most popular attractions in the area.

Homes and businesses were flooded or knocked down by relentless water that surged over riverbanks. Long sections of major throughways, such as Route 136 in Durham, were swallowed up by the rising river. Pavement on other roads washed away. (Source:, April 1, 2007.)