Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By SUSAN M. COVER State House Bureau
LEWISTON - An anti-tax group will launch another Taxpayer Bill of Rights citizen initiative in June. If successful, it would mark the third time since 2006 that voters will be asked to impose tax and expenditure limits on state government.
Pat Thatcher’s comical greeting of Gov. Paul LePage, left, elicits laughter from LePage, tax activist Mary Adams and John Frary at a Tax Day Rally in Lewiston on Sunday.
Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal
Former state Rep. Scott Lansley, R-Sabattus, announced the new effort Sunday at a Tax Day Rally at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston. Maine Taxpayers United, a group that formed in 2007 and that supports the so-called TABOR, hosted the rally and will lead the signature-gathering effort for the new citizen initiative.
"This is really along the lines of something that is going to help the governor out," Lansley said. "Basically, it's a TABOR initiative."
Lansley said he got the idea from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which prepares model legislation for conservative lawmakers around the country. He said the proposal would move Maine to a "priority-based budgeting" system that defines the essential services of government, requires all state agencies to write a mission statement and implements tax and spending limits on the state.
It would also require a 72-hour time-out period for the state budget so citizens can read it before it gets voted on by lawmakers. The signature-gathering effort will begin June 12 when voters go to the polls for the primary. The group will need more than 55,000 signatures to get a question on a future ballot.
Twice before, voters have rejected similar efforts, once in 2006 and again in 2009. Lansley said the current state budget process doesn't allow the kinds of cuts that are needed, and the state should have to make the same kinds of "kitchen table" decisions as average citizens.
The announcement came during the 90-minute event, which was attended by about 140 people. Tea party groups, Republican candidates and others cheered as Gov. Paul LePage and others made the case for cutting government services.
LePage, who Saturday issued a line-item veto of parts of the supplemental budget, continued to hammer away at lawmakers who he says haven't gone far enough to cut spending. His major objection to the budget was that cuts to General Assistance weren't deep enough.
"I've been called a bully, I've been called everything," he said. "I go on vacation to give them a break and they complain about that. It's really tough being governor. Not only do you have to listen to 'em all the time, you have to sit in oversight of the largest adult day care in the state of Maine."
LePage said that while incomes grew nationally by more than 5 percent last year, in Maine they grew only 3.4 percent. He said Maine spends more on education, welfare and energy than the national averages.
He said that while lawmakers lowered the income tax from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent effective next January, that's not enough for the state to prosper. He warned voters to choose the next Legislature carefully.
"Despite the fact that we have a Republican governor, a Republican House and a Republican Senate, let me tell you this, in the House and the Senate, a lot of people say they are something they are really not," he said.
While LePage took shots at fellow Republicans and the full Legislature, tax activist Mary Adams clearly took aim at Democrats. Using today's Patriots Day holiday as a springboard for her speech, she described Democrats as a new generation of British soldiers -- redcoats -- that now wear "L.L. Bean and Harris tweed."
"Our governor is having a tough battle because of the redcoats at the State House," she said.
Jonathan Williams of the American Legislative Exchange Council said his group's newest ranking of the states moves Maine up from 48th to 47th in economic outlook, which scores states based on 15 policies. Maine scored poorly in part because of the estate tax, because Maine is not a right-to-work state, and because Maine has high personal income taxes and a high property tax burden.
Williams briefly mentioned the recent backlash against ALEC, which has lost several corporate sponsors because of its support for the so-called "stand your ground" self-defense law in Florida. That's the law cited in the case of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old who was shot and killed in February after a confrontation with a neighborhood watch volunteer who said he shot the teenager in self defense.
"We've been under attack by the liberal bullies," Williams said. "Those are the folks coming after us. Those are the folks coming after you. Those are the folks coming after Gov. LePage."
Susan Cover can be reached at 620-7015 or at: