PRESQUE ISLE – Depending on who you ask, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights is either about reining in government spending and looking out for taxpayers or it’s about a formula that will force cuts to local budgets which will hurt Mainers.
People on both sides of the issue participated Thursday morning in a forum on the measure during the annual “Breakfast of Champions” at Northern Maine Community College.
About 20 people attended the breakfast forum, which was hosted by the Maine Women’s Policy Center, local branches of the American Association of University Women, and the community college.
Forum panelists included Greg Cyr of Portage, a business consultant and member of the University of Maine System Board of Trustees; Jim Cyr of Caribou, a licensed master social worker; Roger Thibodeau of Presque Isle, a retired businessman; and Audrey Zimmerman of Cary Plantation, coordinator for Women, Work and Community’s Houlton Center.
Organizers set up the TABOR forum to give supporters and opponents the chance to discuss how they feel the measure will affect their communities.
The Nov. 7 ballot question will ask if voters want to limit increases in state and local government spending and require voter approval for all tax and fee increases.
Modeled on the Colorado initiative, TABOR in Maine would limit the growth of spending at the state and local levels to the annual rate of inflation and population growth.
It would require voter approval for any tax or fee increases. Towns could exceed the limits if two-thirds of the voters agree.
During the Thursday forum, the recurring issue was budget cuts and whether TABOR would require them at the local and state level.
Thibodeau and Jim Cyr said that the measure absolutely does not mention cuts of any kind. They said it allows for reasonable spending limits and tax increases that can happen with the permission and approval of taxpayers.
Zimmerman said that TABOR imposes arbitrary spending limits across the board and while they can be overridden, it will be timely and costly to do so.
She questioned how the spending restriction formula would not force budget cuts if figures such as population numbers decrease.
Zimmerman also said that, in practice, TABOR would force some cuts: certain budgetary costs inevitably will rise and cuts will have to be made elsewhere in the budget to stay within limits.
Jim Cyr reiterated that the measure does not “say a single thing” about school boards and councils having to make cuts, but that TABOR opponents are saying otherwise.
“I’ve been around long enough to know when intentional confusing is being done,” he said.
He said TABOR will allow for $191 million more in spending in the state next year if it is enacted.
Greg Cyr said that the measure gives an “enormous amount of influence” to those who do not want to invest in government services.
He said the legislation would allow a minority of 12 state senators, for example, to “scuttle” any spending program in Maine.
“TABOR removes the opportunity for the government to do the kind of necessary spending that they forecast will help with state growth,” he said.
Thibodeau said that TABOR is wonderful because it gives voters the last say.
“If you’re scared of the voters, you’re not going to like TABOR,” he said.
Zimmerman said the measure is actually anti-democratic because voters already have the final say the way the system is now.
Both sides agreed that there are many ways to be administratively more cost effective; they both agreed there are spending problems. They just disagree on the right way to address the tax reform problem.