Maine Taxpayers Favor Property Tax Cap

Published May 1, 2004

In a recent statewide poll, a majority of Maine taxpayers expressed support for a statewide mandate to cap local property taxes. A referendum on the ballot later this year will give voters an opportunity to vote on the plan.

According to a March 10 AP report, “More than half [51 percent] of the Maine voters surveyed said they would vote for, or lean toward, a plan to limit taxes to 1 percent of the assessed value of a property.”

The random survey of 400 registered voters was conducted between February 28 and March 3 as part of the quarterly Omnibus Poll by Strategic Marketing Services. Less than one-third of the surveyed voters said they would vote against the cap or lean toward doing so, while 18 percent were undecided.

“I think the question straight up probably reads very well–who doesn’t want to cut their taxes?” said Patrick Murphy, president of Strategic Marketing Services. “When all the issues come out then there’ll be a spirited debate and then who knows how it will go.”

According to a March 11 report in the Portland Press Herald, the referendum will be held in June or November of this year.

The initiative would, with some exceptions, limit property taxes to 1 percent of a home’s assessed value. The cap would allow a higher tax rate if a community had certain voter-approved debt. The plan also would roll back assessed property values to the 1996-97 level and cap assessment increases, allowing an annual adjustment of no more than 2 percent.

The property tax cap plan is the brainchild of Carol Palesky and her Maine Taxpayers Action Network (MTAN). Talking to a local ABC affiliate, the 63-year-old Palesky said the number of MTAN followers swelled from 2,000 to more than 25,000 during a two-week period in February, when the tax cap plan began attracting attention. Palesky said she gets “50 to 75 e-mails a day,” and that a man gave her a $5,000 check after she spoke to a chamber of commerce breakfast meeting recently in Portland.

Palesky is considered a maverick by many of the local politicians. The Maine Municipal Association, which predicts the referendum would lead to a 40 to 60 percent cut in property tax revenues, opposes her plan.

Palesky has said municipal officials are exaggerating the impact of the tax cap proposal to scare voters. Most towns and cities run surpluses and overspend on administration, she said. Palesky recently told the Sun Journal of Lewiston she would “eat her hat” if the measure doesn’t pass.

Former Republican State Senator Phil Harriman of Yarmouth, who supports the tax cap, said the poll results “send a message to the Legislature that people are upset about high property taxes and are demanding tax reform.” Harriman served in the Senate from 1992 until 2000 and sat on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee during his final term.

“It speaks to the fact that there is a lot of pent-up frustration and that our elected leaders in Augusta are not hearing the message,” Harriman said. “I sure hope the Legislature will take the opportunity to lead and bring forth something that is meaningful.” He told the Portland Press Herald he “plans to play an active role in promoting the tax cap to stand up for people who are struggling to pay their property taxes.”

John Skorburg is managing editor of Budget & Tax News. His email address is [email protected].