Cue the ominous music. Activate the dark-clouds-and-lightning-bolts special effect. Pan in for a close-up shot of the face of a terrified bureaucrat. Hit the scream button.
TABOR is rising from the grave.
Or maybe not.
You can quit with the scream button. We get the point.
Ever since the Legislature adjourned in late June without passing a tax-reform bill — sound effect: geese, because that was a BIG HONKIN’ SURPRISE!!! — rumors have been circulating that the Taxpayers’ Bill Of Rights — TABOR to its friends — would return from the dead to once again attack overspending and force state and local governments to live within their means. And now, having ignored the warnings of the old conjure woman (“There’ll have to be tax cuts, I tells ya, awful, bloody tax cuts”), the politicians must face the ancient curse they’ve brought down upon themselves:
Or, as noted above, maybe not.
This much is true. As a result of the Legislature’s failure to cut taxes — or reform taxes in a revenue-neutral manner — or even to avoid raising taxes — forces for both good and evil are at work on spending caps similar to the one that lost by a narrow margin at the polls last November. I’ll tell you what’s going on — Arrrraaaaghhh! — as soon as I get rid of this cheesy horror-movie metaphor.
There, that’s better. According to Bill Becker, executive director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center — the group that created the original TABOR proposal to limit increases in government spending to inflation plus population growth, and require public votes to override those limits — another version of TABOR and another referendum are distinct possibilities. “We’re looking at drafting a new tax and expenditure measure,” Becker said. “TABOR isn’t the only possibility, but it remains one of the most viable.”
Becker was vague about how this proposal might differ from the 2006 version, except to say the revised TABOR would refute one of opponents’ most damaging charges: that it would have forced state and local governments to slash their budgets. “We’ll definitely clarify that,” he said. “No way it would require any cuts.” Becker said his group had no plans to take the improved TABOR to the Legislature or the voters, but he expected others to do so. “If it’s on the ballot in the next 12 to 18 months,” he said, “it will pass.”
Meanwhile, in a secret laboratory high on a rocky mountain, a mad scientist — sorry, I got carried away. What I meant was, meanwhile at the State House, Governor John Baldacci has promised to have some sort of tax-reform bill that includes a tougher spending cap (current law limits how much the budget can grow to, let’s see, whatever amount the governor and legislators want it to grow) ready for the January legislative session. Or maybe for a special session. It’s hard to tell, because he keeps sending different signals. Also in the mix is the Maine Chamber of Commerce, which is making referendum-like noises and David Flanagan, whose resume includes — deep breath — former top gubernatorial aide, ex-head of Central Maine Power, special troubleshooter for the state and federal governments and occasional candidate for governor. A person in the know said Flanagan is “working on something,” although it’s not clear if that “something” involves helping Baldacci with his proposal or developing a rival plan.