April 02, 2020

TABOR panned at Ellsworth talk

ELLSWORTH – The debate over the proposed legislation known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights rolled into Hancock County’s biggest community on Thursday, but it wasn’t much of a debate.

Kate Dufour, representing the Maine Municipal Association, which hosted the event, made no apologies that her organization is clearly against the initiative.

“We do have a huge tax burden, we don’t dispute that, but we do feel like things are being done to address that,” she said to a group of about 20 people at Ellsworth High School’s auditorium. “Any community already has the power to [cap spending] on their own, but what we’re saying is that this doesn’t work in every community.”

Specifically, Dufour said, “It hammers rural Maine.”

The citizen-led initiative, known as TABOR, would limit spending at the state and local levels to the annual rate of inflation and the population. It would also require voter approval for all tax fee increases.

Opponents of the proposal, like Dufour, claim that it reduces local control over spending and would threaten essential services like education and public safety.

Those in favor of the initiative say it’s a fair way to limit local and state spending, which is the reason for the state’s high tax burden.

Those in attendance on Thursday in Ellsworth listened to Dufour’s presentation about why the MMA has come out against TABOR and most agreed with her.

“I don’t believe TABOR is right for the state of Maine,” Ellsworth City Council Chairman Gary Fortier said. “It just doesn’t fit. If citizens of Ellsworth or anywhere else have concerns about budget practices they should bring them to their local representatives.”

“From my perspective on the City Council, it seems like this would limit local control,” added councilor Stephen Beathem.

Others were not so sure that TABOR isn’t worth looking into.

Rep. Robert Crosthwaite, R-Ellsworth, didn’t say one way or the other if he supported TABOR but called the initiative a “clear reflection of failure in Augusta.”

Crosthwaite referred to the state’s huge budget deficit and lack of controlled spending.

Ken Shea, a Hancock County commissioner, agreed that spending at the state level is a problem, but he pointed out that his county has been able to keep its budget at the level of inflation for the last three years.

“It can be done,” he said. “I agree with the objective of this bill, but I don’t think this is the right way to achieve [tax reform.]”

Another TABOR debate will be held in Hancock County on Thursday, Oct. 19 at the town office in Blue Hill.

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