- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - As the legislative session nears a close, independent Eliot Cutler sought to refocus attention Tuesday on the three-way governor’s race with a property tax relief proposal that would slash taxes for homeowners while attempting to shift some of the tax burden onto visitors, possibly through a seasonal sales tax.

Cutler said he would lower property taxes for most Maine homeowners by 20 to 40 percent through an increase in the homestead exemption while “exporting” a greater share of taxes onto visitors through a seasonal sales tax increase from 5 to 7 percent, along with higher taxes on amusements, or through a permanent sales tax increase from 5 to 6 percent.

“It’s been a long time since Maine’s tax system made sense. It’s time for a reboot,” he told reporters on Tax Day at the home of supporter Ed Suslovic, a Portland city councilor, former mayor and former lawmaker.

Cutler said his top priority is to ease the property tax burden, which he said places an increasingly disproportionate burden on vulnerable groups.

Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election campaign, which touts the Republican governor’s income tax cuts, said Cutler’s plan “robs Peter to pay Paul” by raising sales taxes and poked fun at the proposal to increase taxes on golf, movies and entertainment. “Eliot even wants to tax your fun,” said Brent Littlefield, LePage’s chief campaign strategist.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud also had concerns about Cutler’s plan. “Just like Gov. LePage and his fiscally irresponsible tax breaks for millionaires, Eliot Cutler’s plan picks winners and losers, and he risks leaving municipalities on the hook for the bill,” said Lizzy Reinholt, Michaud’s campaign spokeswoman.

Cutler said he anticipated the attacks and that he’s ready to debate the merits of his proposal.

He said his plan would provide an additional $100 million in state assistance to municipalities, $75 million for education and $10 million to better market the state.

While he has two different proposals for offsetting costs of property tax relief, Cutler said he’d be willing to work with lawmakers if they had a better idea.

He said something needs to be done. Eleven percent of Maine households spend more than 10 percent of income on property taxes, and some pay as much as 20 percent, he said.

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