Citizens of Maine will have the chance to limit taxes and spending when they go to the polls this November 7.
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) ruled on February 21 that supporters of a proposal to limit taxes and state and local spending had submitted the required signatures to place the Act to Create the Taxpayer Bill of Rights on the ballot. State and national tax groups rate Maine as having the nation’s highest combined state and local tax burden.
Mary Adams of Garland, Maine led the petition circulation effort with help from more than 1,000 volunteers around the state. Adams’ group, TaxpayerBillofRights.com, needed to submit 50,519 signatures of valid Maine voters equivalent to 10 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election.
‘Tired of Being Number 1’
“We’re sick and tired of being number 1 in the nation in state and local tax burden. We’re doing something about it,” said Adams.
“On the local level, revenues which exceed the limit will have to be used to reduce local property taxes; at the state level, revenues beyond the limit can be used to reduce existing taxes or as cash rebates,” Adams said in a celebratory statement. “Augusta [Maine’s capital] will have to debate how to give us back money each year instead of trying to figure out how to get it away from us!”
Adams is a seasoned veteran of the Maine citizen’s initiative process. In the mid-1970s, she led a statewide vote that repealed the uniform property tax. The victory made her a fixture in Maine politics and brought national attention, including a feature on the national newsmagazine show “60 Minutes.”
The proposed bill of rights is a tax and expenditure limitation (TEL) that would statutorily restrict the growth in state and local government spending to a certain economic indicator. In 1973, under Gov. Ronald Reagan, California passed the first TEL. Twenty-eight other states have subsequently passed similar legislation.
‘Status Quo Vs. Prosperity’
“The referendum will boil down to a fundamental debate on the future of this great state,” said Bill Becker, president and CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which helped draft language for the bill. “The referendum campaign will be a choice between those who support the status quo versus those who believe in greater economic prosperity.”
The ballot question reads in its entirety, “Do you want to limit increases in state and local government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth and to require voter approval for all tax and fee increases?”
The proposed taxpayer’s bill of rights (TABOR) would limit the growth in spending for state, county, municipal, and school budgets by tying that growth in spending to population growth and inflation for governments, and to population growth and student enrollment for school systems. In addition to establishing a growth allowance, the TABOR would create a budget stabilization fund that would allow government spending to remain constant in recessionary times.
“Under the version proposed for Maine, a portion of any revenue raised beyond the spending limit is placed in budget stabilization funds, also known as ‘rainy day’ funds, with the balance refunded to taxpayers,” Ed Cervone, an analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a liberal think tank based in Augusta, told the Bangor Daily News for a February 22 story.
Teachers, Unions Oppose Reform
Critics of the tax and expenditure limitation, including Gov. John Baldacci (D), the Maine Municipal Association, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Center for Economic Policy, and Maine Education Association (MEA), contend the proposal is too rigid and could hamstring government and require drastic cuts in services.
“MEA opposes TABOR,” noted Rob Walker, president of the Maine Education Association, in a statement on the union’s Web site, “and anyone who cares about our students, our programs, and our schools will do likewise.”
Adams has said her organization will make TABOR a defining issue in this year’s gubernatorial and legislative races. Baldacci will face challenges from a Republican, a Green, and at least one Independent candidate (there are currently 14 registered gubernatorial candidates). In the legislative races, every seat in the House of Representatives and Senate is up for re-election. Currently, Democrats hold a one-seat plurality in the House and a three-seat majority in the Senate.
Jason A. Fortin ([email protected]) is director of communications/projects manager at the Maine Heritage Policy Center.
For more information …
Information on Maine’s proposed tax and expenditure limitation ballot initiative is available at http://www.taxpayerbillofrights.com.