The tax conformity debate in the State House boils down to this: Democrats are fighting against an unproven tax giveaway that would come at the expense of Maine students and taxpayers.

Democrats and Republicans are in complete agreement that Maine should fully conform to the federal tax code for the next two years. We are delighted that Republicans can agree with President Barack Obama and other Democrats that the middle class and small businesses deserve the tax breaks in the federal tax code.

We’re glad they’re on board with adding mortgage insurance to the mortgage interest deduction, making higher education and child care more affordable and providing deductions to teachers who use their own money to provide supplies in their classrooms. We’re glad that they recognize the importance of incentives for small businesses like mom-and-pop ice cream parlors and flower shops and for Mainers who make a living as plumbers, carpenters, fishermen and loggers.

Republicans and Democrats part ways on a questionable tax break called the Maine Capital Investment Credit. We’ve seen smoke and mirrors around MCIC, but it is not part of the federal tax code. Gov. Paul LePage added this $23 million program to the tax conformity bill he sent to the Legislature. It’s worth noting that the governor wants to take $1.4 million from education to help pay for MCIC, money that by law is supposed to go to our schools.

MCIC is the state’s own version of bonus depreciation — not the same thing in the federal code — and it was created as a temporary incentive because of the recession. But it’s not clear that programs like this actually boost our economy. Other New England states don’t think so, and the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has questioned their effectiveness as an economic stimulus tool.

We’ve got to ask ourselves whether this is the best use of limited taxpayer funds. This question is even more pressing now, as 133 school districts around Maine recently learned that they will be getting less in state education funding. In all, taxpayers in these communities are facing a $23 million gap.

The education shortfall is the result of changes in statewide valuation, and it affects communities large and small. Portland faces a loss of $2.7 million, while Scarborough and Westbrook face losses of $1.6 million and more than $489,000, respectively. In Downeast Maine, Calais will lose $360,000 and Eastport $188,000. In central Maine, Lisbon would see a loss of $478,000. In Penobscot County, the declines include $478,000 for Orrington and $477,000 for Bangor. The list goes on.

Last week, the House voted for an amended version of the governor’s bill. It addresses both MCIC and the school funding issue.

First, it continues MCIC for the 2015 tax year so Maine people and businesses can file their returns promptly without complications. It does not, however, extend MCIC into the second year. This allows us to take a deep look into the program and figure out whether this is the most fiscally responsible use of taxpayer dollars. This question would not be as difficult if the governor had brought us a supplemental budget, which is the usual practice. But because of his unwillingness to work with the Legislature, we find ourselves without an accurate big picture of the state’s finances and needs.

Second, it provides an additional $23 million in education funding. Democrats do not want students to suffer because of cuts in the classroom. We do not want families and small businesses to be in the awful position of getting hit with a big increase in their property tax bills, seeing education suffer or further cuts to municipal services like snow plowing, firefighting and trash pick-up. We know that property taxes hit the middle class particularly hard, whether it’s families trying to get established or seniors on fixed incomes.

We need our Republican colleagues to join us in supporting this measure. Two Republicans and two independents in the House already have. Once we pass this amended bill, families and businesses could file their returns and do so knowing that property taxpayers won’t be hit with a $23 million education cost shift and that our classrooms won’t suffer needless cuts.

I’ve been hearing from businesses concerned about predictability and from educators and school board members concerned about taxes and services. Both groups are absolutely correct and this compromise is our best chance at solving these very real problems.

Rep. Erik Jorgensen, D-Portland, serves on the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

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