Maine is about halfway through a yearlong gubernatorial election contest that is sure to consume millions of dollars and everyone’s patience by the time Nov. 4 rolls around. But one of the advantages of such a long race has been the opportunity it has given candidates to roll out their policy proposals sooner than they might in a typical year.

The latest entry comes from Eliot Cutler, the nonparty candidate, who presented his tax-reform plan Tuesday. If enacted, it would shift some of the tax burden from Maine resident homeowners to non-resident property owners and tourists. The plan is similar to two previous attempts to modernize the tax code, and reflects the transition the state has made from a manufacturing to a service economy. Those plans proved to be good policy but bad politics, and were easily defeated. However we supported both of those efforts, and to the extent that Cutler’s plan has the same goals, we support it, too.

And Cutler has made what we consider to be improvements to the failed tax reform ideas of the past, focusing reductions entirely on the property tax, which is often the biggest tax bill for low-income and middle-income Mainers, instead of the income tax rates that benefit higher wage earners more than those in lower brackets. Cutler has proposed two ways to pay for these benefits, both involving changes to the sales tax to maximize the share of state revenue payed by visitors. He would channel the benefit of his tax shift on the homestead exemption, and would increase state aid to cities, towns and school districts to make up for the loss of tax revenue on the local level.

We are less confident that Cutler is right about what defeated the previous plans. He says it was a lack of leadership, which he lays at the feet of both parties equally. But in 2009, the Democrats went out on a limb and passed a sweeping tax reform that Republicans attacked in a people’s veto campaign that took advantage of the plan’s complexity to confuse voters. It may fit Cutler’s narrative to say that both parties were to blame, but he would be naive to believe that his plan would escape the same kind of misleading opposition.

Fortunately, there will be plenty of time to have this debate. We have seen three years of Gov. LePage’s leadership and have a good idea about which direction he’d pursue if he’s re-elected. Democrat Mike Michaud has put out an unusually detailed policy book that identifies his priorities along with price tags. Now Cutler has filled out a key piece of his agenda, not only telling us what it would cost but from where the money to pay for it would come.

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