Tax Cap Defeated Thanks to You!

Maine Townsman, November, 2004
By Christopher G. Lockwood, Executive Director

On behalf of the MMA Executive Committee and staff, I want to thank municipal officials across the state for your work in identifying and communicating the potential impacts of the Palesky (Question 1) tax cap initiative to the citizens of your communities. This was an incredibly important and challenging undertaking, but it was essential to allow citizens to understand and make an informed decision regarding this ballot measure.

In May as we commenced working on the campaign, our research identified two critical points. First, it was imperative that the information about this proposal be factual and not overstated. Second, local officials were the most credible spokespeople. As we worked to bring together a broad-based coalition and to organize a campaign effort, we incorporated these two critical points into the overall strategic plan for the campaign.

We appreciate and value the willingness of municipal officials to take on this assignment. Although the calculation of potential revenue losses as a result of the tax cap proposal was relatively straightforward, the translation of those revenue losses into the impact on service levels was far more challenging. Municipal officials exercised diligence and responsibility in striving to maintain vital services, but in many cases even the most critical of public safety services would be affected due to the magnitude of the revenue losses. Often these analyses placed municipal leaders in a position of informing current staff members that their positions would be eliminated or cutback if the initiative measure was adopted. Clearly this was a difficult and thankless job, but it was a key element in enabling citizens to understand the potential consequences of this measure.

Maine voters made an informed decision regarding the Question 1 tax cap measure as being flawed and too extreme; nonetheless, for all of us who have been involved in discussing the tax cap issue over the past several months, we recognize that citizens continue to be concerned with Maine’s overall state and local tax burden. For our part, the Maine Municipal Association is committed to bring forward constructive proposals to address these concerns. The MMA Legislative Policy Committee has established an Ad Hoc Tax Reform Implementation Committee to guide the MMA staff in the development of the legislation that will be offered to implement the School Finance and Tax Reform Act of 2003 (the MMA initiative adopted by the voters on June 8, 2004).

This implementing legislation will provide a foundation and framework as the incoming Legislature begins its work. In addition to the requirement that the State pay 55% of the cost of K-12 education, this measure directs the Legislature to establish a plan to reduce Maine’s overall state and local tax burden in a responsible manner. The measure will also establish on-going funds for the more efficient delivery of municipal and regional services (setting aside 2% of existing Municipal Revenue Sharing Funds) and educational services (2% of existing General Purpose Aid funds). We welcome the opportunity to work with the Governor, the Legislature and other interested parties in building on this foundation.

In closing, I want to also thank the members of the MMA staff for their untiring efforts to provide information and to assist municipal officials in understanding and informing your citizens regarding the tax cap proposal. I also wish to thank Larry Benoit of BSSN Resources, the overall campaign manager, and the members of Citizens United to Protect our Public Safety, Education and Communities. This was truly a team effort, requiring an extraordinary commitment from all parties. Again, thank you all for your fine work and dedication to serve your communities.