Do you want to limit increases in state and local government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth and to require voter approval for all tax and fee increases?
Groups that support the Taxpayer Bill of Rights ballot initiative fairly say that Maine has been largely unsuccessful in lowering its tax burden, a result of the absence of leadership on state and local budget reform. But instead of placing their trust in the public’s ability to understand its responsibility, their solution is to install narrow, formulaic tax-and-spending restrictions. TABOR is the mechanical alternative to representative government; it is the machinery to which Maine would surrender when it has lost faith in its ability to govern itself.
Maine must not be so willing to surrender.
TABOR badly accounts for the rise and fall of demands on government services. It hands over to a legislative minority the ability to determine any tax or spending increases. It tells local government how much it can spend. It relies on the Consumer Price Index even though government doesn’t buy the same products as a typical consumer. Its taxation provision violates this state’s constitution, according to Maine’s attorney general.
TABOR’s negating, confining view of Maine is not necessary. Positive, pro-growth alternatives such as the new Brookings Institution report on Maine do much more than cut spending by dictating limits. The Brookings report, called “Charting Maine’s Future,” calls for cuts too, but it actually identifies areas of Maine government that are wasteful, it shows where Maine is being ineffective and seeks savings without wholesale harm to services.
Then it goes further, laying out tax savings and reinvestments that would create new industries here and develop new opportunities for Maine’s young adults. Rather than using the TABOR model of saying what can’t be done, “Charting Maine’s Future” concludes that Maine could achieve so much more while reducing its tax burden.
No group agonized over TABOR more than the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, which this week came out strongly opposed for three good reasons. The chamber saw what many have seen – flaws throughout the bill would require swift amendment, a problem several of its supporters concede. Second, TABOR is too broad, affecting programs that lead to economic growth, such as the Community College System. Third, the chamber sees a better option in joining a coalition of groups representing tens of thousands of Maine citizens who have drafted an alternative to TABOR.
The Brookings work, brought here by GrowSmart Maine, is exactly what fiscal conservatives in Maine’s Legislature have been saying for years. Inform Maine citizens of their choices and they will carefully reduce the size of government and use the subsequent savings to invest on their own and as a state.
Rather than accepting TABOR’s fiscal straightjacket, Maine citizens should put on their work clothes and take part in the remaking of their state and local governments.