As state budget negotiations enter a late stage, it’s looking less likely that Gov. Paul LePage will get what he wants in the form of the major tax system overhaul he proposed in January. In fact, it’s questionable whether Maine will get a significant tax change at all this legislative session.

That isn’t stopping Republicans and Democrats from affirming they’ll get their wishes — or parts of them — in the end. On Friday, LePage and Republican legislative leaders issued a statement pledging to include significant income tax relief in the two-year state budget still being negotiated by lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee. The top Democrat in the House, Speaker Mark Eves, followed suit with a statement pledging to stick to the outlines of his party’s tax plan.

Given that appropriators have a budget to bring into balance for the next two years, and given that a tax tinker (or a few) is more likely than a tax overhaul, it’s critical appropriators choose the right tinker if they really need one — a change that won’t make Maine’s tax code more reliant on regressive sales and property taxes.

Republicans in the Legislature were in a position to strike a true middle ground on tax reform earlier this month, when they released an alternative to LePage’s sweeping tax proposal, which the GOP has been hesitant to embrace with its broad sales tax expansion. But the result is a plan that does less for low-income taxpayers than LePage’s proposal and is less controversial simply because of its limited ambitions.

The GOP proposal, helpfully, is an admission that nonprofit properties won’t be subject to property taxes, that some level of municipal revenue sharing will stay in place and that sales taxes more or less should stay where they are.

But the Republican framework retains LePage’s misguided and dangerous plans to eliminate the estate tax and lower corporate income tax rates — both moves that research has shown do little to spur economic growth. Perhaps most dangerously — since legislators often find it easiest to resort to raising these taxes — the Republicans propose raising the lodging and meals taxes to 9 percent under the erroneous notion that tourists from outside of Maine will absorb most of the burden. That might be true with the lodging tax, but the meals tax is charged in nice restaurants, in fast-food restaurants and on prepared foods in the grocery store. It’s not a tax that mostly would be absorbed by tourists.

The current rate for both taxes is 8 percent, and it’s scheduled to return to 7 percent on July 1. Democrats, in their plan, would keep the 8 percent rates in place. LePage’s plan wisely would lower the meals tax to 6.5 percent and keep the lodging tax at 8 percent.

Two years ago, as they struggled to negotiate a two-year budget, Republicans and Democrats agreed on the temporary meals and lodging tax hikes in order to get the budget to balance. They would be wise to at least avoid raising the meals tax this time around.

The best option at this point, given the limited time left for budget negotiations, is for lawmakers to do as little as possible with the tax code and instead ensure the state budget retains as many elements as possible that keep property taxes in check: sufficient funding for public schools, the homestead exemption and revenue sharing for towns and cities.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...