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If Anti-Tax Group Gets Its Way TABOR Will Be Back on the Ballot
04/16/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Even as Mainers rush to meet Tuesday's income tax filing deadline, there's a move afoot to bring tax reform to the voters. A group called Maine Taxpayers United is launching another Taxpayer Bill of Rights-styled citizen initiative in June. And they're also targeting lawmakers who have failed to support the tax policies of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Organizers hope to achieve at the ballot box what they couldn't accomplish in the Legislature.

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First there was the Taxpayer Bill of Rights citizen initiative, or TABOR, that was defeated six years ago. Then there was TABOR 2 or the "son of TABOR" that was rejected three years later. Undaunted, the Maine Taxpayers United is launching yet another tax reform citizen initiative that is not exactly TABOR 3, but definitely a close cousin.

"We're asking the Legislature and the state government in general to put priority-based budgeting like we do at home," said Scott Lansley. He is a former Republican legislator from Sabbatus and the political director for Maine Taxpayers United. "Right now the process is that they put last year's numbers forward, whatever increase that they think they're going to have and then we have to make up the increase," Lansley said. "Every year, we can't make up what we have, we're running deficits and there's structural gaps."

Maine Taxpayers United did much of the groundwork in support of the past failed TABOR intiatives, which advocated spending limits on state and local government and required voter approval of certain state tax increases. Lansley said the new approach would be to require the departments of state government to prioritize their spending each month.

"And if the budget needs to be cut back then they can do this from month to month instead of waiting until the end of the year and end up with a huge structural gap," said Lansley.

The group plans to begin its signature-gathering effort during the June primary, which is welcome news to Gov. Paul LePage. LePage told the 200 or so people attending the Lewiston rally that he's disappointed the GOP majorities in the House and Senate failed to deliver ON tax relief.

"Despite the fact that we have a Republican governor, a Republican House and a Republican Senate, let me tell you this," LePage said. "In the House and the Senate, a lot of people say that they're something that they're really not."

LePage had hoped to reduce the state's tax burden by a number of state spending cuts in the most recent supplemental budget, but those proposals were soundly rejected by both houses of the Legislature. LePage told members of taxpayers group to hold those lawmakers accountable.

"People make campaign promises and they get to Augusta and they forget it," LePage said. "This year's an election year for the federal government and for the state and I ask you all: whomeever candidate you vote for, hold their feet to the fire. make sure that what they campaign on is what they're going to represent when they come to Augusta."

The governor wasn't alone in expressing frustration with Republicans in the Maine Legislature. Jack Wibby is the communications director for Maine Taxpayers United.

"And frankly I'm rather angry about that because we worked very hard two years ago to help get a friendly Legislature elected," Wibby said. "We didn't think that we were going to win the House, we thought we would win the Senate. Not just Republicans, but people who are friendly to taxpayers who understand where that money comes from. it's somebody else's money. It's money that somebody else has earned."

"Clearly there's some disappointment on at least one side of the aisle about the budget process," said state Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham).

As the lead Democrat on the Legislature's Taxation Committee, Berry said he's seen TABOR-like proposal fail before. He said Maine taxpayers are reluctant to impose strict limits on government spending.

"Maine people have rejected any mechanism that puts budgeting on auto-pilot and it sounds as if part of what's being proposed here is a kind of budgeting by auto-pilot similar to what we saw in the two TABOR proposals which were rejected by increasingly wide margins," Berry said.

Berry said he is confident that if the Taxpayers United initiative makes it to the ballot box, it will be rejected just as the other efforts have. In the meantime, Governor LePage this weekend used his line item veto power to target spending for municipal general assistance programs and for certain Medicaid coverage. Legislative leaders must decide this week if they want to return to Augusta from a month-long hiatus to try and override the vetoes, with a simple majority vote.

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