LD 2102 WILL RAISE PROPERTY TAXES

Testimony in opposition to LD 2102 “An Act to Support Municipalities by Repealing the Law Limiting the Municipal Property Tax Levy” (EMERGENCY)

I am Representative Amy Arata and I represent House District 104, and I am the Assistant Republican Leader in the House of Representatives.

We’re here today to talk about an attempt to repeal the property tax levy limit. We support keeping the property tax levy limit because the government should respect taxpayers and keep its promises. First, a little history lesson.  In 2005, both parties agreed that excessive tax increases at the state and local level were unsustainable.  A taxpayer revolt was brewing, so a bipartisan working group was established to address the problem.  After dozens of meetings were held, the group presented LD 1, which included many compromises to accomplish the shared goals of efficient, affordable, and effective government.  One of these compromises was the property tax levy limit.  This was supported by then-Representative Troy Jackson, Sen. Rotundo, and then-Representative Janet Mills. We believe that when Democrats and Republicans come together to negotiate a compromise, that agreement should be honored.  Anything less destroys trust and hampers our ability to work together.

This very reasonable, bipartisan law limits property tax growth to the percentage of average personal income growth, plus the percentage of new property that’s being taxed in the municipality.  It makes sense, because taxes should not increase faster than your income does.  There are reasonable exceptions to the limit for emergencies, such as natural disasters, and the voters can vote to exceed the limit, which they often do.

Unfortunately, a bill, LD 2102, is now pending in the Senate, that would remove the property tax levy limit and take power away from local voters and give it to the local government.  The idea for this bill came from some municipal leaders of a town in Cumberland County, because the majority of their voters opposed surpassing the limit in back in 2020.  I typically like to work with municipal governments. Having been on a local budget committee for several years, I understand the complexities, but I work for the voters first.  I represent the 863 voters who wanted to stay under the spending limit.  They deserve a voice. By the way, in that 2020 election, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by over 16%.  This is not about partisanship, this is about the voters’ rights.

In later elections, when the town leaders made an effort to inform voters about WHY they wanted to surpass the spending limit, the voters supported overriding the limit.  For example, in 2021, the town wanted to fund property tax assistance for seniors. They informed the voters that this was the reason why they would exceed the spending limit, and voters chose to support that additional spending to help senior citizens, and overwhelmingly voted to override the limit.

LD 2102 will punish property taxpayers throughout the whole state because some local officials in one town are disgruntled because their budget didn’t pass back in 2020.  Local officials have a responsibility to budget within the limits given to them.  If they cannot do so, they owe a clear explanation to the voters about why they should vote to override the limit.

  Voters should have the right to force their municipality to honor a tax levy limit.  Passage of LD 2102 would take away this important right and limit their voices, creating more mistrust of public officials.  The people of Maine deserve a government that keeps its promises, and this is a promise that was made by Governor Mills, Senate President Jackson, and Appropriations Chairwoman Senator Rotundo. It’s been said that this property tax limit is old-fashioned, but there’s nothing old fashioned about keeping your promises.  The bill is currently tabled in the Senate, and we are here today to urge the Senate to do the right thing, to make the government keep its promise, and to kill this bill.

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