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Bob Stone

Let's Look at Question 1B
By Bob Stone
Oct 11, 2003 - 7:48:00 PM

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A wee bit ago, we pretty much dismantled Question 1A on the November ballot. A very expensive campaign, featuring a terribly deceiving television ad is attempting to fool Maine’s voters into voting ourselves a multi-billion dollar tax increase. I think Maine’s voters are too sharp to fall for this money grab on the part of Maine’s city and town officials.

Now we’ll look at Question 1B. This is the so-called “competing measure” on the ballot. It is the result of intensive negotiations between the Governor, the Democrat leadership and the Republican leadership at the “special session” at the end of August.

1B is very much like 1A. 1B adds significant cost to Maine state government and doesn’t promise tax reform - it’s kind of a “1A Lite” or “reduced fat” version.

Over the past several weeks, I have had the pleasure of participating at a number of forums and debates concerning 1A, 1B and 1C. The 1A message is always the same: “We want your money and we want it now!” The 1B message has been much more complicated and convoluted - and sold with much less conviction than the 1A money grabbers.

At a debate down in Kennebunkport, a senior Republican legislator, who was actually supporting the 1A position, made an astounding statement about 1B. He told the audience that 1B was actually approved by the legislature “in the blind”. In other words, they voted for 1B without really knowing what 1B would cost the state of Maine if it were approved by the voters in November.

So we are going to the polls to vote on a competing measure, Question 1B, that even the legislators don’t fully understand. Wonderful, just wonderful.

Question 1B is a strange brew of legislation. Let’s look beyond the spin and see what it is all about.

When the MMA went out the polls last November to gather signatures for their deceptive money grab, they used headlines to the effect of “Sign this and lower your property taxes”. They easily gathered about 100,000 signatures, of course. Do you know anyone that wants higher property taxes?

When the Governor and the legislative leadership saw the potential impacts of the MMA’s Question 1 (a 10% increase in the state’s budget), they decided to try to head disaster off at the pass with a watered down “competing measure”.

Now the first question that might come to mind is why didn’t the Governor and the legislature just draw a line in the sand and say “No, MMA, this is bad policy for Maine, we cannot afford it, and we are going to fight you and defeat this silly money grab.” The answer is in the politics, of course.

The Governor and the Democrats in control of the legislature did not have the political will, in my opinion, to stand up and fight the MMA. The MMA is joined in this money grab by the Maine Education Association who also see a pot of gold at the end of the 1A rainbow.

Well, guess whom the Governor and Democrats in the legislature depend on to help them get elected? Why the members of the MMA and the 25,000 members of the Maine Education Association, of course. The MMA and MEA members are a huge segment of the high octane Democrat power base.

Baldacci and his legislative cronies could ill afford to launch a frontal assault on the MMA/MEA coalition. The next best option was to create competing measure, 1B, and try to defeat 1A by getting people to vote for 1B. By enlisting Augusta insiders to carry the water on 1B, Baldacci is able to avoid having to anger (to a massive extent) the very people he needs to help him win a second term.

Looking at the provisions of 1B, it is obvious that Baldacci could give a hoot about giving real and responsible tax reform to Mainers. Question 1B is out there to give Baldacci and his free spending friends political cover. Period.

Here is a bare knuckles look at 1B:

1B promises the municipal officials and teachers 55% funding, but only after Baldacci leaves office in 2010. What the heck, Angus King left him a mess, why not leave his successor a mess.
1B expands the Circuit Breaker program to help qualifying people pay their property taxes. Who doesn’t have problems paying their property taxes? The Circuit Breaker program helps the few that apply for the aid while the rest of us get to pay our taxes in full and part of someone else’s tax bill. Where is the tax relief there?

1B restores the Homestead Tax Exemption to last year’s levels. Baldacci and cronies just took it away from us last Spring as part of the no tax increase budget. Now, like a fish thrown to barking seals at the zoo, it is back and intact.

1B backers are stating that this risky scheme will be paid for by “natural revenue growth.” Apparently, some “tooth fairy” is going to appear in the skies over Augusta every year and drop a cool $100 million into the state’s coffers to pay for 1B. It is interesting to note that the projected revenue shortfall (remember the $1+ billion shortfall this past Spring?) for next year is already at $500 million and climbing. To think that revenue growth is going to pay for 1B is pure daydreaming.

There it is. Tax relief in the land of big spenders. And still no requirement nor expectation that local property taxes will be cut one red cent.

Incredibly, Maine’s big businesses are being solicited to drop huge wads of cash (in $25,000 gobs) into trying to trick Maine voters into thinking that this is real and responsible tax relief. After the deception of the MMA campaign, I can’t wait to see what their money is going to buy.

Other than staying on the good side and in the political good graces of the smiling Governor, naturally. Oh, brother!

Next, a look at Question 1C.

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