State budget hearing in Brewer March 25; Brewer councilors oppose LePage’s budget

Posted March 19, 2013, at 6:38 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — When city leaders discussed Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed biennial budget Monday night and a resolve opposing his cuts, they learned that the Legislature’s budget writing committee will host a public hearing on the subject in the city on Monday, March 25.

“The appropriations committee is meeting here in Brewer,” said state Rep. Arthur “Archie” Verow, who also is a city council member. “The appropriations committee has been meeting daily with various committees trying to carve out a budget that is fair.”

The public hearing is scheduled for 3-8 p.m. Monday at Jeff’s Catering.

“With matters that impact the community — and this budget does that — it’s good to get out [to hear from residents],” said Ericka Dodge, spokeswoman for Maine Senate Democrats. “Not everyone can get to Augusta.”

LePage’s proposed $6.3 billion biennial budget includes a two-year suspension of the state’s municipal revenue sharing program that offsets municipal property taxes, and other budget changes designed to shift tax burdens from the state to local communities, Brewer leaders said.

“I don’t think there are too many in the Legislature who think … the governor’s going to get what he’s proposing,” Verow said. “They have some difficult problems down there.”

Residents will be able to give testimony on the proposed revenue sharing suspension, as well as cuts to the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement program; Business Equipment Tax Exemption program; Maine Residents Property Tax Refund, known as the Circuit Breaker program; Homestead Exemption for Maine residents; vehicle excise taxes; and language and initiatives related to school funding, Dodge said in a statement announcing the gathering.

The LePage budget shifts more than $400 million of the tax burden to local communities and their property taxpayers, she said.

City council members, who voted unanimously to approve the resolve opposing the governor’s budget, did not hold back when discussing LePage’s plans.

“This resolve is our expression of unhappiness with our governor,” Councilor Joseph Ferris said. “He needs to hear a message that this city council doesn’t like what he’s doing. His solution to the state’s problems is to dump it on the cities.

“He spent a lot of effort and time lowering [the time] people can drink on St. Paddy’s Day to 6 a.m., but dealing with real problems — he puts it on the city,” the veteran councilor said.

“The city of Brewer would be forced to reduce staff in areas of public safety, public works, parks and recreation, the library and education,” Mayor Kevin O’Connell said, reading the resolve into the record. “In addition to those losses, an estimated 1,671 Brewer residents will also see an increase in their property taxes of $190 due to the elimination of their Homestead Exemption and another 716 would lose an average $427 in Circuit Breaker refunds, which assist those that can least afford these increases.”

Councilor Jerry Goss said city leaders have worked hard for years trying to keep expenses low while maintaining services for residents and added the proposed tax shift “is not acceptable.”

Brewer would lose approximately $1.28 million, broken down into $898,000 in revenue sharing funds; $106,344 from BETR; $23,733 in tractor-trailer excise tax revenues; and increased teacher retirement costs of $255,000.

“This would devastate us,” Goss said, inviting all those interested in testifying to show up at Monday’s public hearing.

In a radio address in January, LePage countered critics’ claims that his budget would result in massive property tax hikes, saying that is a “local choice.”

“If revenue sharing makes up as little as 2 to 4 percent of community budgets, it is reasonable to request local officials find alternatives,” LePage said. “These are difficult times. We must work together to move Maine forward.”

BDN reporter Dawn Gagnon contributed to this story.

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