AUGUSTA, Maine — A proposal to outlaw so-called tax zapper computer programs that enable businesses to cheat the government by underreporting sales tax figures will be considered by the Legislature next year, legislative leaders decided Thursday.
The Legislative Council voted 8-2 to admit state Rep. Seth Berry’s bill aimed at software programs that falsify electronic sales records to enable businesses to underreport the totals and lower their sales tax bills.
Berry, D-Bowdoinham, told the council that the state loses about $10 million a year in revenues because of the zapper programs, while neighboring Quebec has lost more than $400 million in a single fiscal year. The tax-evading programs have been detected worldwide.
“State tax officials have expressed growing concerns about this,” Berry said. “We have an opportunity to prevent fraud and get ahead of the curve.”
Berry’s proposal is one of relatively few admitted by the Legislative Council as the House and Senate leaders took up more than 60 proposals they had previously shot down. Sixteen bills were given the go-ahead for consideration during the 2012 session, when only emergency bills or governor’s proposals are supposed to be considered. Sponsors on Thursday had a chance to appeal their earlier rejections.
Another bill that made it to the next level seeks a feasibility study on a proposal that’s been kicking around for decades: an east-west highway across Maine.
The sponsor, state Sen. Doug Thomas, who serves on the Transportation Committee, told the council that while the project’s never moved to an active phase, a lot has been done in the background, including identifying landowners along a potential right of way.
“Planning is well along and this is a very doable project. It’s not pie-in-the-sky,” said Thomas, R-Ripley.
Also making the cut was a proposal to bar municipalities from imposing fees on ice fishing shacks. The fees have stirred debate in towns such as Randolph, which reinstated $15 fees on every ice fishing shack along the town’s frontage along the Kennebec River. Ice shack owners said the fees would harm their business.
Among the proposals rejected were two aimed largely at abuse of the drug known as bath salts. The bills called for a better coordinated approach to the problem by bringing together a variety of agencies and committees rather than just focusing on increasing penalties, as lawmakers have done previously.
On Oct. 31, the council considered nearly 300 proposals for the 2012 session and allowed fewer than half in. Among them were separate proposals to increase criminal penalties for failing to report a missing child.