Thursday, April 9, 2009

Voters may get their voices heard on at least one citizen petition

The sun is shining brightly. The humidity is low. The skies are clear. Know what all that means? The Gator Dude’s (FF coined that term and I love it!) body isn’t ravaged by the weather. That means it feels good, so unlike last Tuesday, this was a good day at my senior fitness session. The legs wanted to pump, the arms wanted to lift, and the balance ball wanted me to stand. Today will be good for all my activities.

At least one of the citizen initiated referendum questions now appears to be headed to a certain vote in November. The legislative committee holding a public hearing on a proposal to cut the excise tax on cars unanimously reported out an ought-not-pass recommendation.

Last year a citizens’ petition of more than the required 55-thousand signatures was certified by the state’s Secretary of State. Basically, the petition, if successfully approved by the voters, would cut the excise tax people pay on new cars and trucks by about half for the first five years. Furthermore, it calls for tax credits or no excise tax on some new cars which meet certain emission requirement.

Officials in towns and cities oppose the tax because it would be a loss of a revenue stream. You might have been led to believe that the excise tax, because it’s on motor vehicles, was used to maintain roads in the cities and towns. That is simply not true, although the Maine Municipal Association seems to tell us each time this comes up that it is used on roads.

The truth is the tax simply goes into municipality’s general fund and is included in spending anywhere in the budget. Since the upkeep of the roadways is one of the items the general fund pays for, at least a portion of the excise tax goes there. But it is only a portion. I have read in some reports, however, that in some municipalities the excise tax revenue, if it were dedicated, does cover all or nearly all of the road costs.

The key is that it doesn’t have to fund the roads. The money can be used anyway the municipality officers wish. Roads can be let go if they wish to use the money for a pet project. Like a municipal pier or a park not too many people want.

Excise tax revenue is sharply down because of the economy. People simply aren’t buying new cars. After five years, the excise tax is stable and more and more Mainers are driving cars older than five years.

One argument against changing the excise tax law is that the lost revenue will have to be gained by taxation elsewhere, primarily by the property tax. No one, of course, is looking for places where a budget could be scaled back. Again, town/city officials don’t want to prioritize and make decisions; they’d rather the taxpayers do it.

The legislature still have more citizen initiated referendum questions to consider, but I’d bet they’ll all go the same way as the excise tax proposal. In these particular situations, I’m not sure I can fault the legislature for sending the measures out to the voters. It was good number of the voters who started the petitions by signing them; all the voters should have the opportunity to agree or disagree.

The legislature will establish exactly when the voting will take place. Most people believe it should be during the next general election in November when the most voters go to the polls. But such petitions have resulted in voting during the primary elections in June and in some cases, special election dates have been set.

The doom and gloom rhetoric will begin shortly and again, for the umpteenth years in a row we’ll hear of deaths, no fire or police protection, people going hungry, people losing their homes, and the whole gamut of outrageous stories. None of that will take place, of course; all local governments need to do is gain some courage and face the economy as it is.



Anonymous said...

You are so right on the excise tax, GiM. In my opinion it's a scam. The campaign is, by the way.

GiM said...

Thank you for your comment. I did check out the website and it appears it could use a little more work on providing information.