BRUNSWICK — Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday made their third pitch to the public in an attempt to gain support for their budget plan, offering it as an alternative to the initiative Gov. Paul LePage put forward in his biennial budget that would eliminate the state income tax and local revenue sharing.

Held at the Unitarian Universalist Church, the town hall-style event hosted by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, was attended by about 125 people. Revenue sharing and education were among the most discussed topics by audience members, who were concerned about investments in education.

Both lawmakers framed their budget proposal as a more balanced approach to tax reform that incorporates a few of the governor’s proposals while rejecting many others, spreading benefits to more Mainers instead of just its wealthiest residents.

While the pair spoke optimistically about investing in local revenue sharing, funding public education, and offering property tax relief for families, the elderly and middle-income earners, they acknowledged there’s a long road ahead before the Legislature delivers a budget.

“The big question is, ‘What are the Republicans in the Legislature going to do?'” Eves said. “We both agree that the tax system is broken.”

The key to LePage’s plan is eliminating the state income tax and replacing some of that revenue with a 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax to 6.5 percent. Under the governor’s plan, about 50 percent of the cuts are going to the top 10 percent of taxpayers, the Democrats said.

Democrats are offering a less dramatic reduction in the state tax burden and say their plan will spread the benefits more evenly among tax brackets while offering property tax relief by expanding homestead exemptions for people who live in property they own.

To pay for the plan, Eves and Alfond said they want to “export” the burden to the roughly 30 million people who visit Maine annually.

This includes increasing taxes for rental cars, hotel stays and restaurant meals.

Eves said there already are aspects of LePage’s plan that appear likely to die in committee, either because they are too unpopular or unworkable for Republican lawmakers to swallow, including the proposal to tax nonprofits, and the governor’s plan to eliminate revenue sharing.

Eves and Alfond projected that if the governor were to get his way, there would be a $300 million education shortfall in the fourth year, with no way to pay for it, potentially forcing deep cuts to local communities.

“We wanted to make sure we brought forward a plan that represented our values,” Eves said.

Matt Byrne can be reached at 791-6303, or at:

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