It was former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who stated, “Taxes are what we pay to live in a civilized society.” However, even Justice Holmes would agree that there must be some limitation on the tax burden being placed on the citizenry. Government spending is growing at an unsustainable pace.

Facts are a powerful tool. Maine is No. 1 in the country in tax burden. Maine is No. 50 in the country in disposable income, which is how much money you have left in your wallet after paying the average housing costs and tax bill. Maine also has the highest excise tax, the sixth-highest gasoline tax, and is among the highest in electricity rates and the cost of home heating oil. In summary, Maine is in tough shape. Our citizens are struggling to make ends meet.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) is a step down the road to fiscal sanity. TABOR does not mandate budget cuts, as opponents suggest. It allows modest increases in government spending (usually inflation plus population growth). The TABOR formula would allow Scarborough’s budget to increase up to $3.4 million next year. Any increases beyond this amount would require voter approval. It’s that simple.

That being said, there will be strong opposition to TABOR generated by the organizations that are funded with taxpayer dollars. Keep this in mind when numerous points will be made by opponents to make folks scared and/or confused. These are the two oldest political tricks in the book. I believe Maine citizens are much too smart to be fooled when it comes to the spending of their hard-earned tax dollars.

The first argument opponents will make is the loss of local control. I believe the exact opposite is true. How do we lose local control when our citizens must approve any additional spending beyond TABOR limitations? Keep in mind Scarborough’s budget could increase $3.4 million without voter approval!

A second argument will be made that TABOR will stifle economic development. Folks should be scratching their heads on this claim, as statistics will show Maine can’t get much worse in this area. Maine was the only New England state to have negative economic growth in the past year.

Maine was ranked No. 46 in the Small Business Survival Index, and was ranked 49th in economic development in 2005. The only state ranked behind Maine was Louisiana, much of which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Common sense would dictate that lowering the tax burden would only help, not hinder, economic development.

The final argument will be that TABOR will devastate education. I heard the same scare tactics in Massachusetts in 1981, when Proposition 2 1/2 was on the ballot. Twenty-five years after Proposition 2 1/2 became law, Massachusetts students test well above the national average, outperforming Maine students by a wide margin on the SAT.

SAT scores were recently released for the Class of 2006. Massachusetts students had a composite score of 1547. Maine students had a composite score of 1493. The national average was 1518. New Hampshire, with the lowest tax burden in the nation, scored 1553. Spending more on education doesn’t guarantee better results, as these tests scores clearly indicate.

Taxachusetts, as it was known back then, had the highest tax burden in the country. Recent data shows Massachusetts is 16th in property tax (Maine is No. 1) and No. 30 in top rate for personal income tax (Maine is No. 6) so Proposition 2 1/2 achieved the desired result of bringing the Massachusetts tax burden in line with the national average.

Maine can achieve similar results with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The Scarborough Town Council endorsed a resolution last week urging citizens to vote yes on TABOR this November (or earlier, if you choose to vote by absentee ballot). We can control our own destiny or we can stay on the path of runaway government spending. Change is difficult, but change we must.

Jeffrey Messer

Scarborough Town Council

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