Death and taxes

By AL DIAMON  |  September 23, 2009

Which, as Thomas Hobbes pointed out, is "nasty, brutish and short." Sort of like Governor John Baldacci's budgets.

There is, however, another tax measure on the ballot this fall, the one I alluded to above that reduces the excise tax. Cities and towns use this tax -- which must be paid before registering your car -- for road maintenance. Faced with a substantial reduction in that source of income if this measure passes, municipalities would have to let the roads deteriorate or raise property taxes to make up the shortfall. Neither alternative is attractive.

Supporters of this measure are quick to point out that there's a third possibility: reduce municipal spending. All Portland has to do is not fork over $1.8 million to build new housing for three firefighters near the city fireboat, and it could cover about half its loss. Admittedly, the rest of the state's municipalities might have a more difficult time coming up with over $80 million in cuts, at least until they receive all those savings promised by proponents of jail and school consolidation. (I just noticed that the preceding sentence makes it appear as if jails and schools were merged. That wasn't the case, although, now that I think of it, the idea has merit.)

As a practical matter, voters in most of Maine's cities and towns won't want to lose $80-million worth of police, fire, and public-works services. They'll cast their ballots in favor of raising taxes, thereby negating any small benefit derived from cutting the excise tax. For them, it would probably be simpler to leave things as they are.

Somebody else can fix this mess after they're dead.

Let me know when the wake is by e-mailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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