AUGUSTA — While Maine Revenue Services prepares to embark on a statewide road show to explain the new tax reform law, opponents of the measure are scrambling to collect enough signatures for a citizen’s veto.
The seminars, which begin Monday and run through late October, are designed to educate retailers and service providers who will have to collect and file taxes in numerous new categories.
“Maine Revenue Services is committed to providing accessible and affordable education opportunities to as many taxpayers as possible,” said Peter B. Beaulieu, director of sales, fuel and special taxes for MRS.
For opponents of the tax reform measure, led by Sen. David Trahan (R-Lincoln County), “education opportunities” amount to the presentation of a government-imposed set of mandates that will create thousands of new tax collectors in Maine.
“I wonder how much average people will be able to understand in this thing,” said Trahan. “My first priority is to repeal the whole law.”
Trahan’s group, whose political action committee calls itself “Still Fed Up With Taxes,” is struggling to collect at least 55,087 signatures of registered Maine voters — the statutory amount needed to trigger a citizen’s veto bid — by a Sept. 12 deadline. Trahan said Friday that there is virtually “no way to know” how many signatures have been gathered because they are in various stages of being certified by town clerks across the state.
“I’ll be honest, it’s going to be close,” said Trahan.
The tax reform bill was passed by the Legislature in the closing days of the most recent session. It reduces the state’s top income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 6.5 percent, provides breaks for lower-income earners and imposes a surcharge on taxpayers who earn more than $250,000 per year. To balance that, the law increases the tax rate or imposes new taxes on a variety of goods and services, in some cases to areas that weren’t taxed before. The new tax formula is to take effect Jan. 1. The bill passed along party lines, with Republicans in passionate opposition because they say it is deceptive, confusing and oppressive to Maine people.
The citizen’s veto sought by Trahan’s group would put a question on the June 2010 ballot asking voters whether they want to repeal the law.
House Majority Leader John Piotti (D-Unity), who championed the bill through the legislative process, said the citizen’s veto is “dangerous” because at the very least, it would delay tax reform for a year.
“That means Mainers will forgo more than $57 million in benefits,” said Piotti. “There’s a lot riding on this.”
Democrats contend that by creating or increasing taxes on goods and services used by visitors to the state and decreasing the income tax, Maine people will pay $57 million less. Foes have disputed that figure.
Curtis Picard, executive director of the Maine Merchants Association, said he has received numerous calls from members who are confused about the law. Picard said the confusion stems from seemingly arbitrary lines the law draws between taxable and nontaxable items and services.
“Many people who have never had to collect taxes will be affected by this law,” said Picard. “There’s a lot of confusion out there.”
Trahan said his group is aiming to turn in its signatures by Sept. 5. By the time the Secretary of State’s Office checks all the signatures later this year, the Maine Revenue Services presentations will be over. The schedule for the three-hour seminars, which are open to anyone at 23 locations across Maine, is posted at the Web site www.maine.gov/revenue under the “2009 Sales Tax Seminars” link.
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