Municipalities Endorse Tax Reform Initiative

(from Maine Townsman, October 2002)
by Geoff Herman, MMA Director of State & Federal Relations

      Real property tax relief and comprehensive tax reform have been the highest priority of municipal leaders for many years, with no close second. But convincing the Legislature of the need to restore balance, equity and predictability to Maine’s antiquated tax code has proven to be a difficult, if not impossible, task.

       At long last a pathway has been cleared to achieve both goals of relief and reform, and also attack Maine’s overall tax burden in a thoughtful, comprehensive way and invest in a restructuring of the delivery of governmental services to achieve long-term cost savings.

       On October 17 at the MMA convention in Bangor, municipal delegates attending the MMA Annual Business Meeting gave their unanimous endorsement to an initiative that positively addresses the chronic problems with Maine’s system of taxation.

       The vehicle that creates this historic opportunity is a citizen initiative initially developed by MMA and now advanced by the more broad-based “Citizens for Reduced Local Property Taxes Statewide.” Fully described in the August/September issues of the Maine Townsman, the proposed citizen initiative would:

       Relief – Provide property tax relief by forcing the Legislature to properly fund kindergarten through grade 12 education;

       Reform – Compel the long-overdue task of comprehensive tax reform;

       Restructure – Make investments, using existing resources, to restructure the delivery of local and regional governmental services; and

       Reduction – Adopt for the first time in Maine’s history a comprehensive plan to address the State’s overall tax burden.

       Full details of the plan and the process to bring this grassroots project for positive change into full fruition can be found at the web site for the Citizens for Reduced Local Property Taxes Statewide at

Regional Meetings

       MMA has been on the road for the last six weeks explaining the basic elements of this tax reform proposal to selectmen and town managers, councilors, school officials, legislators and interested citizens from South Berwick to St. Agatha, and West Paris to Calais. The results of that effort have been very encouraging. Most municipal and school officials, after reviewing all four corners of the initiative, give it a resounding ‘yes’. They see it as a moderate, multi-faceted, achievable approach that provides immediate relief to the property tax and implements a long-term modernization of both the State’s tax code and governmental service delivery system.

Final Product

       All citizen initiatives contain three basic elements — the proposed legislation itself, the title of the legislation, and the specific question that will ultimately appear on the ballot for the voters’ yes-or-no vote. Before a citizen initiative can be circulated, all three of these elements have to be approved by the Secretary of State. With respect to this tax reform initiative, the wording of the legislation was deemed acceptable a couple of weeks ago, but the final wording of both the bill’s title and the question to the voters was only recently finalized as follows:

       Title of the Initiative: “The School Finance and Tax Reform Act of 2003”

       Wording of the Question: “Do you want the State to pay 55% of the cost of public education, which includes all special education costs, for the purpose of shifting costs from the property tax to State resources?”

Next Steps

       Now that all the wording of the initiative has been finalized, the certified petition will soon be issued. The goal is to collect 50,000-plus signatures on the upcoming November 5 election day so that this reasonable property tax relief proposal can move forward. All across the State, municipal folks, school folks, and interested citizens have volunteered to set up tables at the polling places, where they will be inviting their fellow voters to sign the petitions so the proposal can be further advanced to the Legislature and all the voters in Maine in 2003.

       That organizational effort is well under way. Volunteer coordinators have been established in over 100 municipalities, and they are hard at work lining up their neighbors, municipal and school officials and others who understand the value of this important work and are willing to spend a few hours on November 5th in the signature gathering effort.

       If your community is not engaged in this project and you think it should be, please contact us directly by calling Jeff Nevins (1-800-452-8786) or connecting through the web site ( All the information you need to move comprehensive tax reform forward will be provided to you.

       Saying ‘yes’ or saying ‘no’ to tax reform…it’s up to you.