GREENVILLE, Maine — The battle is on. Both proponents and opponents of the Tax Relief Initiative known as Tabor II and the Maine Auto Excise Tax Repeal have mounted their campaigns to sway voters in advance of the November ballot.
The Maine Municipal Association, which believes both of the citizens initiative questions will be detrimental to towns and the state, has been holding informational meetings in most counties to explain its opposition, said MMA’s Mike Starn. A meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, in the Greenville municipal building.
In November, residents will be asked whether they want to reduce the municipal excise tax on motor vehicles less than 6 years old by an average of 55 percent and to exempt hybrid and other alternative-energy and fuel-efficient vehicles from sales tax and three years of excise tax.
Chris Cinquemani, Maine Green Now Campaign chairman, the organizer of the auto excise tax repeal, said Maine has the seventh-highest excise tax in the nation and 22 other states have no excise tax at all. “We saw an opportunity to attack one of the most hated and significantly burdensome taxes in Maine; it’s yet another tax that is sort of keeping us back when it comes to comparing to other states,” Cinquemani said Wednesday.
The MMA, however, claims the excise tax reduction would have a “pretty serious” effect on towns that use the revenue to help pay for bridge and road work. “It also gives people who are buying newer vehicles a tax break but it doesn’t give any type of a tax break for people who maintain their older vehicles,” he said.
Using Greenville as an example, MMA predicts the town would lose about 0.43 mills worth of the total excise tax received in 2008, or about $143,000.
“Even if it is close to that amount, $143,000 is a significant amount of money for the town to lose in revenue,” Greenville Town Manager John Simko said Wednesday. He said the town wrestled with lower revenues last year and took “draconian” measures to curtail budgets and many employees took on double and triple duties to avoid outsourcing costs, he said. “We are already running a very lean budget and we require off-setting revenues to keep our mil rate from going up.”
Simko said that only a limited number of residents would get the reduction while on the flip side, every single property taxpayer would pay a slightly higher rate to fund the reduction. “To me, it’s not good policy to benefit a small group at the expense of a large group.”
The Tabor question asks residents whether they wish to change the existing formulas that limit state and local government spending and require voter approval by referendum for spending over those limits and for increases in state taxes.
“Take a good look at Augusta, our fiscal house is in shambles,” attorney David Crocker of Portland, state chairman for the Tabor campaign, said Wednesday. He said the Legislature has had a multitude of opportunities to rein in their “wild spending” but have not done so.
Crocker said his campaign has declined MMA’s invitation to its informational meetings. “Frankly, we thought it was a very, very inefficient way to present the issue to Maine people,” he said. He said Tabor II proponents are working on four debates in a large venue that would be well-covered by the media. He said opponents would be invited to participate in these debates.
Starn said the most “onerous” thing about Tabor II is that it requires a very “administratively complex system” of approving tax changes, not only a tax increase, but any tax or fee change. “It really promotes government by referendum,” he said. He said most towns have a town meeting form of government and that form of gov-ernment seems to work well, he said.
Simko said Tabor II would require towns to have the same type of validation vote on the municipal budget as is currently in place on the school budget. A town meeting would then be followed by a referendum to validate the vote.