Welcome to the state budget shell game

By The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board | Jan 17, 2013
Source: File Photo DOWN AT THE CORNER — Pedestrians stroll past the drug store at the corner of Main and Oak Streets in Rockland.

Gov. Paul LePage's proposed state budget does not simply cut spending or taxes.

Instead, it takes budget problems in Augusta and drives them down the road to Rockland, stopping on the way to sprinkle budget problems on every community between here and there.

Municipal and school officials across the state are slinging the figures around like arrows as the budget battle begins.

"The biggest injury to the towns and cities is the governor's proposal to completely eliminate the distribution of municipal revenue sharing beginning in July 2013," the Maine Municipal Association notes in a Jan. 14 memo. "That proposal would discontinue the distribution of $283 million in property tax relief funds over the next two-year period."

This is a big hit. No matter how disinterested in politics you are, the time to sit up, pay attention, start a protest march, letter campaign or at least make some phone calls has arrived.

The state collects sales taxes in your town and then gives some of that money back to the town, hence the term "revenue sharing." For a while now, state government has been raiding revenue sharing to cover its shortfalls, but this is really money that belongs to our communities.

The idea behind revenue sharing is to reduce the amount paid in property taxes, which are not based on our ability to pay but the value of our property. They are often described as "regressive taxes."

City Manager James Smith said in a memo Jan. 15 that coupled with the governor's other cuts to the homestead exemption, commercial vehicle excise taxes and school funding, this could would result in a home valued at $150,000 seeing a $532.74 tax increase. In one year!

The governor has proposed flat funding for schools. The homestead exemption subtracts $10,000 from the assessed value of a primary home in Maine to save home owners money. The idea is to help the working and/or middle class who are not merely buying up properties to increase their wealth. LePage has targeted that except for some funding for those 65 and older.

A number of other revenues are also targeted.

"The governor's proposal delivers a double whammy to all property taxpayers in this state by first jacking up the property tax rate in a variety of ways and then eviscerating the programs that are designed to help people who are having trouble paying their property taxes," the Maine Municipal Association states in its memo.

There would be no way to avoid the tax increase in our community. We would have to eliminate multiple departments in Rockland city government — things like the library — to make up for the lost revenue, Smith said.

"It is not fair to ask property owners to foot the whole bill for the state," said Elizabeth Dickerson of Rockland, who serves as both a city councilor and the District 47 representative in the House.

We agree. For many years, municipal governments have, for the most part, been very frugal and careful in their local budgets, leaving little fat to trim and sticking to funding for essential services like police protection, fire, ambulance, removing snow from the roads and keeping our sewers functional. The state government has mismanaged its budget and instead of solving its problems responsibly just seeks to kick them down the road to more responsible local leaders.

"Clearly, the debates on both the supplemental budget and the biennial budget have only just begun," Dickerson said in an email, "and the cuts proposed by the governor will be a moving target as we begin the debate process. However, residents of District 47 should stay in close touch with me as we move forward, make sure that their voices are carried with me to Augusta if they themselves cannot attend and testify, and I encourage all residents to come together to speak out against these damaging and irresponsible policies that will shove the cost of doing the business of the state onto the property taxpayer, take money away from education, and gut many other programs to offset costs to towns and municipalities — programs that in fact take a large part of their funding from revenues generated in the towns and municipalities."

"Maine is lagging far behind many other states as our nation begins to climb out of the Great Recession," she continued. "We need to take a closer look at policies that foster revenue generating activity through education, technology innovation, and fair tax reform. Passing the buck to the towns and cities is not responsible fiscal policy, and I am committed to being a voice for supporting innovation in our economy, educational opportunity that gives our Maine people the tools to become the next entrepreneurs of our state, and fair and responsible taxation."

Hopefully we can look forward to seeing this radical budget plan amended into something that will work for the people of Maine.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Mary Elena Howard | Jan 24, 2013 19:19

I agree that government needs to tighten their belts, and yes we do have a serious problem. It is about time some of these offices get off their butts and get out there to do their jobs and sift through the BS.

How many people does it take to fill in one pothole? When I see FIVE men standing around one small pothole, I see WASTE!! Only one has a shovel and one is perhaps overseeing him, but three more just to talk him through it!?!! Why are taxpayers paying for our elected officials to go out to nice dinners and sleep in nice hotels, in addition to the wages and other benefits they already get? I see WASTE. They should be paying for their own rooms, even sharing, and paying for their own meals.

Take a look at DHHS and the money WASTED there last year when people who were not entitled to benefits were getting them, and it continued for a while after it was discovered!!! Why? In this day and age they should have been able to correct it right away instead of adding to the loss.

There again is an issue that needs addressing. Is there no limit to what we taxpayers must dole out money for? When is enough, enough? I know a woman who has 7 children by 6 men (ages 2 to 17), another who has 5 by 4 different men (ages 7 to 30) and yet another who has 4 by 3 different men (ages 5 to 14), and one of them has held a job for about nine months to a year of her lifetime, but the other two have NEVER worked. They collected TANF for the children and that is how they lived all these years, and one child did not bring in enough money to live on so they had more!!! Now they cannot do this, the system is changing, so they are applying for Social Security - they are at a loss as to what to do so two are claiming mental disorders (and getting away with it because they are stressed to the max over this and life as they knew it in general), and the other has a son who has medical issues and she gets it for him. (Again, just doing a SHIFT - our Social Security will suffer more.)

Yes, some of us are tightening our belts, for sure, and steps need to be taken to do so within our State government, but not at the expense of our school children or our elderly; our property taxes are sky high now!! 

I say it is time for those things mentioned above to be corrected and others like them, we all see them in everyday life, and time for the rich to stop getting away with the schemes they have gotten away with for years to "exempt" their money from being taxed, and start paying like the average family has to. 

Posted by: Jeff Grinnell | Jan 20, 2013 17:31

I voted for Paul. Mostly just because I wanted to see an angry guy from Waterville who made  parking lot/warehouse deals running Maine's best discount bargain bin, running our state over the entrenched dems. Couldn't do worse then what we had. And all in all, you got to admit its been quite show and really, are you we any worse off?? But I got to say that this is nothing more then a tax shift instead of cut. Sure this will balance the state budget but screw up our LOCAL stuff. Its very simple. Close up a lot of state government. I know that sounds simple. Or even stupid. But that is the most simple and basic solution. Hate to say it, but just as a point, but in Knox county how layers of PD protection do we need? We have State troopers, County deps, and in some local PD. Just saying. Keep sending the money to the towns for local control and cut state...I think we could get by.....Thats my opinion we welcome yours!

Posted by: Catherine Cooper | Jan 17, 2013 21:06

I see that you disagree but what would you do? We are living as a state and as a nation well beyond our means. I have heard the Democrats say terms like " We are looking at this or that." But I don't hear any solutions. Maine is one of 11 states nationally that are in a fiscal downward spiral. More people in these states including Maine are on government assistance and not working than who are working and paying taxes. This cannot be sustained. My family has had to tighten our belts and cut back on both things we want but also things we need. Government needs to do the same!

If you wish to comment, please login.