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Journal Tribune
Updated June 15, 2019
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Maine House narrowly approves local option sales tax

The so-called local option sales tax has been a long-sought policy by Maine’s largest cities and towns. The 73-70 vote in favor was backed mostly by Democrats but there was also bipartisan opposition to the bill.

“Outside of the property tax and the excise tax (on vehicles) local municipalities have no other way of generating revenue,” said Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, who is also a former mayor of the city. Brennan and other supporters of bill including its sponsor Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, said the authority for cities and towns to collect their own sales was long overdue.

If the tax were in place in Portland it would raise about $3 million a year for the city’s budget.

Sylvester and other supporters also said the brunt of a local sales tax would mostly be absorbed by visitors to the Maine. The bill also requires local voters to approve the tax and requires that 25 percent of any local option sales tax be directed to the Maine Rural Development Authority, which would then award the funding for economic development projects in rural Maine. It’s estimate the local option tax, depending on how many cities and towns approve it, could generate as much as $5 million a year for the fund.

Opponents said the bill would was a regressive tax that would hit the poorest Mainers the hardest while doing little to redevelop rural parts of the state. Others like Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, said their towns only had one or two restaurants and no hotels or other lodging and therefore would be able to raise very little from sales if local voters approved the tax.

Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, said the bill would set up a system of “haves and have nots” in Maine. And Rep. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, the assistant House Minority Leader, said the bill expanded taxes, “in a reckless manner on hard-working Mainers.”

But supporters of the bill including Rep. Joseph Perry, D-Bangor, said the tax was targeted to mostly hit tourists or those who could afford to stay in a hotel or a motel while eating at “class A”restaurants and that did not often include lower income Mainers.

The bill will next face a vote in the state Senate.

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