- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Maine’s taxpayers are responsible for less of their state’s bills than they were five years ago, according to a report issued by a nonpartisan think tank on Monday.

The report, by Chicago-based Truth In Accounting, calculates “taxpayer burden” by subtracting each state’s bills from its assets and dividing that figure by its number of taxpayers. Maine’s taxpayer burden was $8,800 in 2014, down from $15,000 in 2010, the report states.

The drop in burden coincides with the governorship of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who was elected in 2010 and has made easing taxes one of the signatures of his tenure. Republicans in state government trumpeted the Truth In Accounting report as evidence of the state’s fiscal stability, but Democrats cautioned that Maine’s economic forecast is more mixed than the report suggests.

“The governor promised the people he would bring fiscal responsibility to the people of Maine and he did exactly that,” said Adrienne Bennett, a LePage spokeswoman.

Democrats pointed out that the change in taxes reflects a shift in the burden of debt, and not necessarily savings on tax bills. Rachel Irwin, a spokeswoman for Maine Democrats, said other studies aren’t so rosy, such as a recent CNBC report that ranks Maine 44th in the country for business.

“It’s important to remember that these numbers don’t tell the whole story, and completely ignore Maine’s struggling economy,” she said.

Truth In Accounting is a not-for-profit group that issues reports about government finances. The group’s report said Maine residents’ taxpayer burden was the 21st highest in the country using Truth In Accounting’s equation. It was 15th highest in 2010.

The group’s founder, certified public accountant Sheila Weinberg, said one reason the burden has eased in some states is that many states’ assets were worth more in 2014 than 2010.

“If the market does well, the taxpayers gain,” she said.

University of Maine economist Philip Trostel said it would be more accurate to describe the figure as a “debt burden” than a “taxpayer burden” because it reflects the amount of money the state owes. He said the improved economy has likely helped ease that burden.

“Where we were in 2010 was just coming out of the Great Recession,” Trostel said. “The economy isn’t quite as weak now.”

New Jersey has the country’s highest taxpayer burden and Alaska has the lowest, the report states.

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