- The Washington Times - Friday, October 22, 2004

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — With passions high and polls tight, Maine voters are poised to decide once and for all whether the state should adopt a California-style tax cap that limits taxes to 1 percent of a property’s assessed value.

There is little disagreement that reform is warranted: Study after study ranks Maine among the highest-taxed states in the nation.

But critics say the proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot — the most sweeping of the half dozen or so property-tax-related referendums on ballots across the country — will gut municipal and school budgets and devastate local services.

“It’s very polarized,” said Harry Whelden, 80, whose taxes have more than tripled to $3,600 a year since his retirement 25 years ago. He plans to vote for the tax cap, even though he considers the measure unreasonable, because he believes a message needs to be sent to legislators.

Property-tax collections nationwide have risen more than 30 percent over the past five years, from $225.7 billion in 1998 to $297.2 billion in 2003, census figures show.

Maine is just one of several states seeking relief in November. In Washington state, voters will decide whether to allow video gambling with revenue earmarked to reduce state property taxes. Oklahoma and New Mexico have referendums that would give property-tax exemptions to war veterans.

In Texas, Houston residents will have two local revenue-cap referendums to consider. Other referendums are up in Indiana, Wyoming and Arkansas.

Peter Sepp from the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria said homeowners feel overwhelmed and powerless against property taxes.

“In the midst of an economic slowdown, it’s easier for people to adjust to sales and income taxes because they’re making less and spending less,” he said. “Property tax [increases] have come at a time when people have virtually no way of coping with them — except by moving.”

In Maine, the referendum championed by tax activist Carol Palesky would cap taxes at $10 per $1,000 of a property’s value and limit increases in value to 2 percent as long as the property stays in the family.

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