Baldacci: Proposal has roots in past

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AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci said Friday the constitutional amendment he’s proposing to freeze the valuation of Maine primary residences is modeled after other tax breaks the state has allowed.

Baldacci, who held a news briefing in his office to trumpet his reworked proposal, also said other states are considering variations of what’s being proposed in Maine.

The proposal advanced by Baldacci seeks to freeze the value of the land of primary residences of year-round Mainers until the property is sold.

At the point of sale, the town could recapture five years of back taxes that would have been paid if the valuation had not been frozen.

The proposal is modeled after an existing provision in the Maine Constitution that gives valuation breaks for woodlands, farmlands, wildlife management lands, open space and working waterfront land, Baldacci said.

“If we can freeze valuations in those cases, certainly we can do the same thing to protect primary Maine residences from escalating land prices,” the governor said.

He added that there’s a major difference between the other assessment freezes, which are voluntary, and his proposal.

“For primary Maine residences I want to require valuation freezes across the board to make sure that every property taxpayer, permanent Maine residents, get the relief that they’ve been demanding and that they deserve,” he said.

Baldacci acknowledged there’s opposition to his proposal, which would need approval by a two-thirds legislative majority and voters.

But he said the constitutional amendment, along with his budget proposal to nudge state school subsidies up to 55 percent and restructure public school districts, will provide “a one-two punch” that will result in real tax relief.

The governor said his constitutional amendment approach is not unique and ticked off a list of other states, such as California and Florida, that have considered similar approaches.

The Maine Municipal Association opposed an earlier version of Baldacci’s freeze amendment, but has not taken a formal position on the one the governor highlighted Friday, said the MMA’s Michael Starn. But unless it’s significantly different, Starn said he expects the organization would oppose it too.

The MMA defended Maine towns’ and cities’ efforts to reduce property taxes, and said 40 percent of the municipalities participating in an MMA analysis cut property taxes for municipal services last year.

Earlier this week, Baldacci said school administrative units weren’t doing enough to operate within limits set by the state.

House Republican leaders on Friday said the Democratic governor’s property tax freeze resolution was “disappointing” and said it won’t do enough to control rising property taxes.

The proposal “will do little more than lift the burden from one taxpayer and shift it to somebody else,” said House Minority Leader John Tardy, R-Newport. “It’s the right problem but the wrong solution.”

Tardy also said it would hurt Maine residents who must move within the state.

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