Pingree, ‘regular Mainers’ criticize Republican tax plan

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PORTLAND — Teacher Sally Reagan estimates she spends between $300 and $400 per year outfitting her classroom at Portland High School with necessary supplies.

Sue Clifford is a breast cancer survivor from Freeport who is still paying off the medical bills associated with her treatment, and facing continuing expenses related to her diagnosis.

Both women say Republican tax measures now being debated by Congress, which include eliminating specialized deductions on federal taxes, would do more harm than good.

That was the message Monday as U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, convened a City Hall roundtable of “regular Mainers,” all of whom said they would be hurt by the tax proposals now on the table.

But at an event in Biddeford held late last week, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, presidential daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump, and U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza all touted the benefits of the GOP plan.

Collins and Trump both spoke about the need to simplify tax filings and help the middle class, as well as provide tax breaks for small businesses, according to a published report in the Portland Press Herald.

“The stated goal is twofold,” Trump said. “Enable our businesses to be competitive and thrive, and to provide meaningful tax relief to middle-income families.”

But Monday in Portland, Pingree denounced the GOP plan and called it “a giveaway to corporations and some of the wealthiest people in the country.”

Sarah Austin, a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy, said while Republicans claim their tax legislation is “about helping the middle class, when you look at the data, there’s actually no way that’s possible.”

Austin said “we’re looking at a tax proposal where … across the board, foreign investors will get more in tax breaks than the bottom 60 percent of Americans. … This is not America first, not for the middle class.”

Pingree agreed, saying the reason she wanted to hold the session was “to hear how it would impact people from Maine.”

In addition to Reagan and Clifford, other speakers Monday included Barbara Berry from the Maine Realtor Association, Nancy Smith from GrowSmart Maine and Bob Wellington from Agri-Mark Family Dairy Farms cooperative.

Reagan and Clifford had the most compelling stories, about how the inability to take additional deductions from their federal taxes would reduce their quality of life.

Reagan, who has been teaching social studies at Portland High School since 2001, said it’s important for both she and her husband, who is also a teacher, to be able to take the annual teacher deduction of $250 that’s now allowed.

And the classroom expenses she’s faced with have changed with the changing times. She’s no longer talking about buying pens and paper and the occasional calculator.

These days, Reagan said, one of her biggest expenses is providing her students direct access to a color printer. She also mentioned a variety of other costs, including subscribing to an online book plan, buying app access for her students, and more.

Reagan has also provided her students with everything from nutritional snacks to shoes and coats – even ties for boys to wear at graduation.

And, she said, “teachers are also always the first to be hit up” whenever any of the clubs or sports teams at the school are holding a fundraiser. “I’ve lost count of the number of candles I’ve bought,” she said.

After Monday’s discussion, Reagan said what’s most important for Congress to understand is that “teachers have to spend their own money in order to be productive at work, to create and deliver high-quality lesson plans and to meet the personal needs of their students.”

Pingree said eliminating the medical expense deduction for federal taxes would impact nearly 9 million American households.

“The loss of the medical-care deduction would be a huge loss for me,” Clifford said Monday.

Even five years after being diagnosed, Clifford said she is still paying off costs related to her cancer treatment. She also has ongoing expenses related to chronic nerve pain associated with her cancer surgery.

These expenses, she said, “forces us to make very critical decisions” about how she and her husband spend their money.

Clifford later said her medical costs are “terribly expensive” and while she and her husband “don’t make a lot of money, we’re heavily taxed, so any deduction we can take makes a world of difference.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Sarah Austin, a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy, at Portland City Hall Monday, Nov. 13, where Mainers discussed the impact of Republican tax measures now being debated in Congress.

Sally Reagan, a long-time teacher at Portland High School, talks about how eliminating the current teacher deduction allowed on federal taxes would be a financial blow.

Sue Clifford, a breast cancer survivor from Freeport, said she relies on the medical care deduction on her federal taxes because of ongoing expenses related to her treatment.

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