Election 2008

dirigo, dirigo health care, Maine beverage tax, tax repeal proposal
Mark Lennihan/AP

Showdown Brewing in Maine Over Whether to Repeal Beverage Tax

August 29, 2008 07:00 AM
by Emily Coakley
Maine voters will decide whether to repeal a new tax on beverages that’s been enacted to pay for the state’s health-care-for-all program.

Maine Votes on Beverage Tax for State Health Care

In November, Maine residents will be asked whether they want to repeal new taxes on beverages that are going to be used to pay for the state’s universal health care program.

The Kennebec Morning Sentinel explains that in April, Maine’s legislature voted for a bill that “adds taxes to soda, beer, wine and flavored water. The taxes vary by product, but would add 11 cents to a liter bottle of soda, 16 cents to a six-pack of beer and 7 cents to a bottle of wine.”

“We already have the second-highest tax burden in the nation. What makes this tax increase so damaging it that it will add to the cost of health insurance at a time when we already have an insurance affordability crisis,” said Josh Tardy, Maine’s House Minority Leader, in an interview with the site, PolitickerME. “It will add about $210 a year to a family policy.” 

Dirigo, the state’s health insurance program that started five years ago, covers approximately 18,000 people. Critics say the program has fallen far short of its goal to cover 128,000 people. According to the Maine Heritage Policy Center, Dirigo covers fewer than 5,000 people who previously lacked health insurance

A coalition of business groups formed Fed Up With Taxes and started a petition drive to get a proposal on November’s ballot to repeal the ‘beverage tax,’ as it’s known. The group gathered more than enough signatures, according to the Morning Sentinel. Another group, Health Coverage for Maine, is visiting voters at home to encourage them to keep the tax.

Jesse Graham, a spokesman for that group, told the Sentinel: “Maine people agree with us. They want to see affordable health insurance that covers their family and friends. A few cents on beer, wine and soda are one of the ways we’re going to get there.”

Both groups are running or planning to run television ads, and have accused the other of spreading misinformation, reports PolitickerME.

Opinion & Analysis: Dirigo

Dan Billings, described as a Republican activist and commentator, said that when it comes to the repeal question, the truth is hard to come by. In the Kennebec Journal, he wrote: “Neither campaign is being honest with voters. The truth is that if the new taxes are vetoed, the Savings Offset Payment will remain in effect to fund Dirigo. The payment, which is a tax given another name, will bring in approximately the same amount as the taxes targeted for veto.”

He concludes: “Neither the funding for Dirigo nor the amount of taxes Mainers pay is at issue. Dirigo will be funded and Mainers will pay the same in taxes no matter the result of the veto vote.” What’s at issue, he says, is how the state is going to collect taxes that fund the program.

On the blog Gator in Maine, blogger GiM, who describes himself as a 70+ man, said he thinks Dirigo has failed

“The one policy fits all fits practically no one,” he wrote. “Under current rules, we 70+ year-old men have to have pregnancy insurance. My wife tells me she can no longer get me pregnant. And there are numerous other requirements that make no sense. If people could buy the insurance they needed and wanted, as they can in most other states, our costs would drop dramatically.”

He plans to vote for the repeal, he said.

Among the taxes’ supporters is Charlie Bernstein of Augusta. In a letter to the editor of the Kennebec Journal late last month, Bernstein said: “The Chamber of Commerce is making itself look mean-spirited by attacking Dirigo Health. And there’s little point. I’ll buy just as much wine, beer, and soda as I always did, and others will, too. So by taking health insurance away from children and working families, the Chamber and its members are just squandering goodwill.”

Related: Expanding health care coverage around the country


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