A pair of tax cutting measures on the November ballot will slash town road budgets and strip local control over finances, the Maine Municipal Association said.
The association said while the measures cut taxes and cap spending, town officials will be unable to fix roads and plow snow, while state officials will not be able to increase expenses unless they are approved by a state-wide referendum.
Jeffrey Austin, an MMA lobbyist, explained the details of the anti-tax initiatives, two of seven on this November’s ballot, to a group of town officials Wednesday at Wiscasset High School.
The anti-tax initiatives were proposed by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group.
The MMA offered the anti-tax initiatives proponents a chance to defend their position, but no one showed up for the meeting.
“A Heritage spokesman said they declined the MMA invite because were hosting elected officials. “They were preaching to the choir,” said Chris Cinquemani.
“We will be addressing our arguments to larger audiences,” he said.
Austin said the conservative group was trying to sidestep the legislature.
“The Heritage Policy Center was unable to convince the legislature to adopt their bills, so they are using the (initiative process) to make an end run around the elected lawmakers,” he said.
“It is simply too big a hit to the road budgets. The towns have to fix the roads so they will shift those costs to the property tax,” he said.
“State law requires towns to plow the snow. They have no choice,” he said.
The measure also gives a special tax benefit to the 30 percent of Mainers who own new fuel-efficient and hybrid powered cars, but provides no benefit to the 70 percent of residents who drive older cars.
At the state level, it would require a statewide referendum to increase any expenses in a dedicated fund. This would include funds as large as the state highway fund, the general fund and state school subsidy, to limited funds as small as the Snowmobile Trail and Trail Grooming Equipment fund, the Maine Black Bear Scholarship Fund and the Eel and Elver Management Fund and the Maine Dairy Farm Stabilization Fund, Austin said.
“We estimate it would cost $800,000 to conduct each referendum,” said Austin.
Another problem is TABOR II would lock in the current levels of funding which have been slashed because of current economic conditions, said Clara Dickstein, senior vice president for policy research for Coastal Enterprise Inc.
“The cuts don’t provide for the real cost of government. There are things that we need to spend money on,” she said.
In addition TABOR II, which was similar to TABOR I and was defeated in 2006, will strip fiscal control from local voters, he said.
By requiring referendums to hike funds, it limits the authority of voters at town meetings, hamstrings local elected representatives (selectmen and county commissioners), limits local budget advisory committees, and the elected state legislators, said Austin.