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Rep. Bruce Bickford: Maine Property Tax Relief – The Real Story

Rep. Bruce Bickford (R – Auburn) gives the Weekly Republican Radio Address from the gallery of the Maine House of Representatives.

Following is the Weekly Republican Radio Address.

Hi, this is Bruce Bickford, State Representative from Auburn.

I serve as the Lead member of the Taxation Committee.

This week, I want to talk about taxes and the difference between House Republicans and Democrats.

That difference is clearly illustrated by the checks that 305,000 homeowners are receiving from the State of Maine.

If you are a homeowner enrolled in the Homestead Exemption through your town, you may have already received a check for $100.

Democrats are touting these checks as “real property tax relief” and taking credit for them.

Here is the real story behind these checks.

These payments are the result of a 2012 law passed under Republican leadership. That law, and eight years of responsible budgeting, has resulted in a $30 million fund.

The fund was originally designed to assist in gradually lowering Maine’s income tax rate to 4%.

Permanently reducing Maine’s income tax rate for all taxpayers.

In 2019, legislative Democrats changed the law to shift the fund away from permanent income tax relief for all Mainers, instead, directing it only towards households that qualify for the homestead exemption.

In 2012, legislative democrats overwhelmingly opposed the proposal, to gradually lower income taxes.

Now that there is $30 million in the fund, they decided to change the law and give out $100 checks to qualifying homeowners.

2020 happens to be an election year.

Democrats are also touting the fact that the state budget includes an increase the Homestead Exemption, more revenue sharing, and an expanded Property Tax Fairness Credit that will help an additional 13,000 low-income Mainers.

On that point, we can agree. Democrats included the Republican property tax proposal in the state budget.

That proposal, the Keschl/Millett plan, allocates an additional $75 million in property tax relief, some of which will go directly to homeowners by increasing the Homestead Exemption to $25,000.

Republicans insisted on this type of tax relief because it goes directly to homeowners in the form of lower property tax bills.

Republicans believe both income taxes AND property taxes should be lowered.

We continued to support the goal of lowering income taxes permanently, while House Democrats moved to give one-time $100 property tax relief checks to people in an election year.

Which brings me to another topic closely linked to taxes, spending.

The State of Maine does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.

The Governor and solid democrat majorities in the House and Senate, produced an eight billion dollar, two-year state budget that is 11% more than the last one and close to $1 billion dollars higher.

Republicans have concerns about its long-term impact on family budgets and on local property taxes. It does not raise taxes in the short run, because it spent the surpluses accumulated under Governor LePage.

The budget that passed is not one that Republicans would have adopted were we in control of the legislature. The Governor’s reliance on one-time monies will require some tough choices going forward.

If the staggering number of bills we will be considering this session and the Governor’s State of the State address are any indication, Democrats will continue to spend without setting priorities and borrow money into the future, without worrying about budget shortfalls in future years.

Republicans were pleased that the Governor indicated in her address that she was open to dedicating a portion of the budget toward fixing our roads and bridges.

She also mentioned the need to address the crisis with our nursing homes and direct-care workers.

These are core priorities that Republicans felt were not adequately addressed in the $8 billion dollar budget.

Another area that we are concerned about is the Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund. We have urged the Governor and Democrats to put more money aside in case there is an economic downturn or unforeseen emergency.

The Government Finance Officers Association recommends putting 17% of annual operating revenue into the rainy day fund.

The current fund has $237 million, or just 6.6% of operating revenue.

This makes the fund $415 million dollars short of the recommended allotment.

The previous administration put money aside in this fund to manage risk. That is responsible governance.

It is why the current administration was able to pay the Riverview bill. Our expectation is that the current executive will continue this responsible fiscal management, so our bills can be paid.

The Governor is proposing to add $20 million to the fund. This is a good start, but, it is unclear if legislators in her own party will agree with her recommendation, or decide to spend that money on something else.

We know that every penny counts for Mainers and that is why House Republicans believe you should keep more of your hard-earned money.

We will continue to oppose new laws that make it harder for people to live, work and raise a family in Maine.

But we need the help of informed and engaged citizens contacting their local representatives whenever there are proposals to raise taxes on items such as gasoline, home heating fuel, beer, wine and spirits, food, lodging and any other items Democrats seek to tax.

We appreciate that you took the time to consider our position on these and other important policies.

This has been State Representative Bruce Bickford with the Weekly Republican Radio Address.

Thank you for listening.