By Victoria Wallack

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the largest business advocacy group in the state, has voted to oppose the Taxpayers Bill of Rights on the November ballot, saying the proposal needs more than tweaking.

Instead the chamber plans to support an alternative proposal put together by the Maine Municipal Association and the Maine Education Association and other interested groups. Chamber President Dana Connors said the nearly unanimous vote of his board Monday night to oppose TABOR and support something else was based on the need to lower the state’s tax burden while protecting necessary investment in areas like education, research and development and roads and bridges.

“We commend our TABOR group for keeping an eye on the prize,” he said, but TABOR “reaches too far, ties our economy in knots, creates a cumbersome process and doesn’t add value, but takes away opportunity.”

The chamber is opposed to the requirement in TABOR that says both overrides of spending and any tax or fee increase, even when spending is under the proposed cap, have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislative body at the state, local, county or school level and a vote of the people.

Instead it believes the focus should be on spending. And rather than having two hurdles to get over, spending overrides should be approved either by a two-thirds vote of the legislative body or a vote of the people, but not both.

Connors said the alternative plan, which he would like to see introduced as legislation in January, strengthens spending caps already in place and approved last year by the Legislature under Gov. John Baldacci’s tax reform package known as LD1. It also borrows from a plan proposed by the chamber two years ago and adopted in part, but not completely by LD1. That plan had stronger override requirements than LD1, particularly at the state level.

The proposal calls for the Legislature to adopt rules that would require a two-thirds vote to override the LD1 spending caps, versus a majority vote. It also calls for encouraging school and municipal regionalization, through incentive funds, and adoption of annual or biennial state debt limits on bonded debt and un-funded obligations, like state retiree health benefits.

“This is not a statement in support of the status quo,” Connors said of the chamber’s vote against TABOR. “This is about lowering our tax burden, but at the same time maintaining those investments that are most significant to maintaining our economy.”

TABOR, Question 1 on the November ballot, would cap spending at all levels of government. It would allow spending at the state level to increase at the rate of inflation plus population growth, but at the municipal level it would be capped at population growth plus inflation or the change in assessed value, whichever is lower.

The proposal has been endorsed by the Maine Restaurant Association, Maine Oil Dealers Association, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and other trade associations.

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