Letters, Aug. 7

Aug 07, 2014

126th Legislature's impact on property taxes

Though the State House is relatively quiet this time of year, much of the work of Maine lawmakers this session went into effect Aug. 1. Let's review how the 126th Legislature's work will affect your property taxes.

Included are measures that help protect the middle class and small businesses from initially disastrous proposals by making good on some of the state's historical funding promise to municipalities. On the bright side, the Legislature stopped $40 million in proposed cuts to revenue sharing that would otherwise have caused unacceptable cuts to local budgets while pushing property taxes up even further, disproportionately affecting those who are least able to afford them.

Established in 1972, revenue sharing is intended to return a portion of sales and income taxes to communities, supporting vital services while keeping property taxes in check. Recently, however, it's been seen as a revenue stream for the State's General Fund. In FY 2015, nearly $86 million that should have gone to revenue sharing will be transferred to the General Fund. We must return revenue sharing to its intended funding levels and recognize that the state and local governments share responsibility for providing government services.

Also on the bright side, I supported providing some relief from the burden of property taxes on Maine families by bolstering the Property Tax Fairness Credit. The measure increases a tax credit created in 2013 for seniors and low- to middle-income Mainers, while expanding eligibility to more renters. This credit replaces the Circuit Breaker Program, a broader 30-year-old program that provided targeted relief to households that needed it most. Replacing the program "saves" the state about $10 million, but unfortunately pushes thousands of our neighbors closer to foreclosure and eviction. The alternative, given the climate in Augusta, was far worse. Retirees and hardworking families shouldn't face losing their homes because of the regressive nature of property taxes.

The Legislature, again working against proposed draconian cuts, reinstated a portion of the state's funding to schools but was unable to go far enough. In 2004, the citizens directed the state to fund public education at 55 percent by referendum vote. For FY 2015, actual state funding is 45.84 percent. Four years ago, the minimum each town was expected to raise for education was $750 for a $100,000 home. This year, because of inadequate funding, it's $810. Since most of municipal budgets go to fund our schools, this trend is disturbing and unsustainable.

Again, this hits those hardest who can afford it least: our retirees living on fixed incomes who want to stay in their homes and middle class workers and entrepreneurs trying to provide for their families.

It's tempting to say this Legislature avoided disaster, given the initial budget proposals, and that's true. Disaster was averted. But we have a long way to go to make our tax system fairer, support our retirees and those on a fixed income, and provide families and small businesses an environment in which to prosper.

Rep. Brian Jones

Freedom

Fulford offers a chance for change

In my small town of Stockton Springs, there is much concern about the quality of education we can give our children and rising property taxes. These issues are tightly linked, thanks to the largest reduction in income tax collection in the history of the state of Maine. It is more accurately referred to as a tax shift, which has resulted in an estimated drop in state revenue of $79 million in 2013. State funding to schools plummeted, sending towns scrambling for ways to keep them open, including raising property taxes. In my town, the elementary school didn’t make the cut — it closed.

For nearly 30 years, my husband and I were able to save enough to pay our property taxes, using the state’s Circuit Breaker and Homestead Exemption tax relief programs. Then suddenly, when the LePage budget passed, the safety net was cut, threatening the security of staying in our home. Foreclosures are all around us — just check the papers for the unending announcements of foreclosed homes.

Mike Thibodeau supported the governor’s budget that proposed to eliminate the property tax relief that we depend on. I called Mike and told him I needed the Circuit Breaker in order to stay in our home. He thanked me for the call, said he’d consider my comments. And I guess he did. He considered my comments to be irrelevant, and voted to gut the property tax relief that kept thousands of people like us in our homes. He voted to reduce the amount available for this tax relief by an estimated $73.4 million, and made it harder to qualify for it.

Sen. Thibodeau voted to shift the burden of paying for education and teachers’ retirement to the towns’ property taxpayers. It is tightly linked.

Sen. Thibodeau may be proud of the unprecedented tax cuts, but meanwhile, the Maine Center for Economic Policy notes that the average tax cut for most working families in Maine will be a measly $83, while upper income earners will take home an average of $874, and those who earn more than $363,438 — just one percent of the population of the state — will take home an extra $2,770, on average. Is this fair?

Mike Thibodeau congratulated Gov. LePage for vetoing the compromise budget, even though it contained a 64-percent increase in state aid to his own town, Winterport. When the Legislature overturned the veto, he voted against the override.

I am a low-income, elderly homeowner, and I want Jonathan Fulford to be my next state senator, because I want to stay in my home.

On his website (fulfordforme.org), Fulford says, “We can lower taxes on middle and working class families and still provide for quality schools, plowed roads, and ready firefighters by making sure corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share.” I’ve known Jonathan for many years, and I trust him. I urge everyone to vote for Jonathan. He’s a man of his word, who cares about the well-being of every one of us. This is our chance for change.

Nancy Galland

Stockton Springs

Fulford: a person for the people

Jonathan Fulford offers a unique opportunity to set straight many of the policy shifts promoted by Paul LePage and his Tea Party pal in the Senate, Mike Thibodeau. Jonathan Fulford supports the citizens of Waldo County over the interests of large corporations and understands that reducing taxes for the wealthiest results in rising overall taxes for the majority of us.

Sen. Thibodeau runs a political action committee called “Paving the Way for a Prosperous Maine,” which, since its inception in September 2011, has received contributions from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a proxy for the Koch brothers and affiliated entities like Pharma, Spectra Energy, and the American Chemistry Council.

Thibodeau is also a member of the ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force. ALEC invites ideologues like Thibodeau to legislative retreats where they push their corporate agenda and urge attendees to pass legislation written by corporate lobbyists. These bills pursue an increasingly extreme agenda and lead to partisan gamesmanship so familiar to us with LePage and Thibodeau in office.

These corporations do not have the interests of Mainers in mind, and neither do the elected officials who follow their directives like sheep. It’s time for real representation for Waldo County. I will vote for Jonathan Fulford for State Senate because he has a vision for the future of Maine, a future that does not include selling our state to the highest corporate bidder.

John Krueger

Northport

A non-conservative opinion on Gaza

From his article, Conservative to the Core in the issue of July 31, it would appear that Tom Seymour has either few if any moral values and/or has little or no knowledge of the history of Gaza and its current state.

Does he know that the citizens of Gaza, just twice the size of Islesboro, are denied not only access to the countries surrounding it but also from entering the Mediterranean Sea even for fishing?

Does he know that the United States has provided Israel with high-tech military equipment which currently prevents much of the damage from Gaza rockets, and which makes Israel the strongest military country, including atomic weapons, in the Middle East?

And Seymour is objecting to sending $47,000 to Gaza to alleviate the suffering because it shows that "we gush over Hamas and chastise Israel."

"...Everyone blames Israel," says Seymour.

Who is this "everyone"?

Seymour's final judgment of this conflict: a recent photo of Obama and Netanyahu, showed "Obama looked stiff and uncertain, while Netanyahu was relaxed and yet authoritative."

From this photograph, Seymour knew which leader to trust. Not the United States, is his conclusion.

Fortunately, I live in a "free" country with access to facts and different opinions. I know which column I don't need to read again.

Lilias Outerbridge

Belfast

Thanks for Maine Celtic Celebration support

The eighth annual Maine Celtic Celebration is now behind us and it's safe to say that the weekend was a great success. The music was top-notch, the games were fun, the cheese rolled perfectly, the donations were generous, and even the dogs were well behaved! On behalf of the volunteer board of directors, I'd like to express our sincere thanks to all those who contributed to that success.

I'll start with the local media which did such a fantastic job publicizing the event. Special thanks go to The Pen Bay Pilot for their work before and especially during the celebration. It was such fun to see events posted online in real time. The Republican Journal did outstanding work producing and distributing our program this year, with lots of great details about all the weekend events. WERU Community Radio's Matt Murphy, station manager and Celtic music lover, once again did a fantastic job as emcee of our main stage. The Bangor Daily News, WABI TV, and The Free Press also helped get the word out.

Next up for recognition is the City of Belfast for providing such a perfect celebration site and contributing financially, especially to the fireworks display. It was great to see the results of last year's construction on the Harbor Walk. The ripening blueberries along the walk were an especially tasty treat.

Then there are the many local businesses and organizations who supported the celebration with sponsorship donations or goods and services, ranging from water for the 5K race, prizes for kids' games, rooms for musicians, raffle prizes, a mini-truck to haul supplies around the site, folding chairs, or cabers to toss in the Highland Games. It really is a community effort from that perspective, with too many contributors to list individually. Be assured that we appreciate each and every donation.

Volunteers are another group the celebration could not do without. We are so grateful to the 100 or so folks who came forward to help out before, during, and after the weekend of the celebration. We depend on you for everything from setting up stages and tents, collecting donations and hauling trash, to running kids' game and other events.

Finally, our loudest and clearest vote of thanks goes to those of you who came to enjoy the celebration and showed your support with generous donations. Thanks to you, we are already planning next year's festivities!

On behalf of of our entire board of directors,

Bob MacGregor, President

Maine Celtic Celebration Board of Directors

Belfast

Searsmont Town Library event raises $6,000+

It takes a lot of people to make a successful fundraiser. Thanks to all the volunteers, donors and patrons who contributed, the 25th Annual Searsmont Town Library Book & Bake Sale July 19 was a huge success. The event, co-sponsored by the library board of trustees and the Friends of the Searsmont Town Library, raised more than $6,000 to help support library programs. We would like to thank the following residents and friends, and I personally would like to beg the forgiveness of any whose names are inadvertently omitted: Jeff Austin' Stacey Benjamin' Janette Brewster; Elsa Chapin; Judy Croteau;Larry Cunningham; Barbara Daggett; Bob and Constance Delio; Peggy Frees; Marie, Stephen and Casey Gilman; Caleb Hilt; Kathy and Rob Hoey; Jake at Fraternity Village Store; Vicky Johnson; Dan Kennedy; Christopher Kulis; Jennifer Kulis; Barbara LaRoche; Barbara Jean LaRoche; Claudia Lucchetti; Contessa Mancini; Dave Marceau; Tom and Lisa Neeley; Carol and Jenness Robbins; Jim Robbins; Jane Russo; Searsmont United Methodist Church; Sally Shure; Bob Sirota; Mickey Sirota; Sharon Soule; David Sprowl; Sherrie Trundy; Evelyn Weggler and Lesa Weggler; plus dozens of people who baked for the sale, the more than 100 donors to the silent auction, and all those who donated books for the sale, and other treasures for Grandma’s Attic. And a huge thank you to my fellow board members who did everything asked of them and more: Jan Austin, Sarah Nelson, Roger Quehl, Jean Wakem and Sandra Weagle.

Joyce Sirota

Chair, Searsmont Town Library Board of Trustees

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