"The poor would be driven out of town. The middle class would drive themselves."
Those lines were written back in 2002 by an insightful political commentator of the sort so rare only a single, simple syllable is needed to identify him:
With all the due modesty at my disposal, I was addressing a plan, backed by the city of Portland and many of the state's other major municipalities, to allow them to impose a local-option sales tax. Thanks to my searing indictment, the bill legalizing this outrage was soundly defeated in the Legislature.
Or maybe my editorializing wasn't the deciding factor. Local-option measures had been shot down by overwhelming numbers at least five times before I ever wrote a word on the subject, and the same has occurred an equal number of times since. Although, it could be argued that the lingering impact of my essay — which suggested that if the tax were approved, everyone who could afford to would move to rural towns that were unlikely to approve such a levy, while the poor, unable to manage even a modest increase in their cost of living, would also migrate to less taxing environments — might have resonated through the years.
After all, the residents of places I charmingly dubbed Leechfield and North New Porcupine could hardly be expected to embrace legislation that was likely to burden them with an influx of welfare moms, deadbeat dads, and me.
As it turned out, I relocated to the puckerbrush anyway, not because of local-option taxes, but because the newspaper for which I wrote that devastating putdown of such a burdensome revenue source rewarded my efforts by terminating my employment. Freed of the demands of putting on pants each day and showing up at the office, I moved to a town where property taxes were less than half what I paid in Portland. Of course, municipal services were likewise greatly reduced, but the lack of cops, schools, garbage trucks, and restaurant inspectors was more than offset by the lack of rules about where you could smoke and drink, the absence of trash tossed on my front lawn, and the reduced chances of running into Eliot Cutler.
But getting back to local-option taxes. According to news reports, this is supposed to be the year that idea finally comes to fruition.
The time is right, a key legislator told the Bangor Daily News.
Although that was in 2001. And it wasn't.
"This year, however, things might be different," said the Kennebec Journal. "Supporters of the current proposal to allow Maine towns to levy a 1 cent local sales tax say it stands a better chance of becoming law than any previous ones."
That was in 2002. It didn't.
"[W]ith both the Legislature and new governor eager to address tax reform, the political climate has changed," announced the Portland Press Herald. "What was once considered improbable is now possible."
The year: 2003. The reality: Impossible.
"This time," said the Press Herald, "proponents see an opening like never before."
That's actually from 2013. And no matter how "like never before" the opening is, it's too small.