April 05, 2020

Business groups split on TABOR Maine Chamber offers alternative

BANGOR – Maine State Chamber of Commerce officials Wednesday announced their opposition to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, citing the legislation’s “deep structural flaws” and proposing an alternative they say offers a more rational approach to limiting government spending.

Dana Connors, president of the state Chamber, said the group had considered supporting the spending limits plan to send a message to the Legislature to rein in spending. But after a three-month review, the group’s board concluded that the bill’s problems were not easily fixed and the bill would not help improve the state’s economic condition.

“Clearly the things we’re looking for in terms of changes are not tweaks, they are substantive changes,” Connors said at a morning news conference in Bangor.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which will appear as Question 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot, aims to limit increases in state and local government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth.

Overriding the limits would require approval from two-thirds of a governing body plus a majority of voters.

That override process, Connors said Wednesday, is too cumbersome and could hamper the delivery of essential government services.

“It won’t serve the public it is intended to serve,” said Connors, whose group – along with the Maine Municipal Association and Maine Education Association – offered an alternative to be presented in the next legislative session.

That plan, in general, would close loopholes in existing spending limits under LD 1, a law designed to lower property taxes and boost state aid to education.

It would also require a means to override the spending limits. In the case of state government, two-thirds of lawmakers would have to agree to exceed the limits, but – unlike TABOR – there would be no need for voters to approve the action in a subsequent popular vote.

The plan also calls for the regionalization of school administration functions in order to save money.

While the state Chamber – which represents about 5,000 businesses – came out against TABOR, not all business groups are on the same page.

On Tuesday, the Maine chapter of National Federation of Independent Business announced its support for TABOR. The federation, which represents about 4,000 small businesses, acted after polling its membership, 78 percent of whom supported the plan.

“They see the Maine Taxpayer Bill of Rights as a way to rein in that spending and make budgets more affordable for taxpayers,” David Clough, the group’s director, said in a statement.

With the election less than three weeks away, TABOR has been endorsed by a number of business groups, including the NFIB, the Maine Oil Dealers Association and the Maine Restaurant Owners Association. The Portland Regional Chamber also urged a yes vote, but qualified its endorsement with the understanding that problems with the bill must be fixed in the next Legislature.

Besides the state Chamber, the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce has also come out against TABOR. The Bangor Regional Chamber of Commerce is expected to vote today. The Bangor Chamber’s governmental affairs committee has recommended that the group vote to oppose TABOR.

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