Bill of rights crushes our democracy

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In Mechanic Falls on Saturday, voters – convinced of needed spending for the public works and police departments – overwhelmingly approved a budget that exceeds Maine’s tax-cap law.

It was democracy in action.

After a full discussion of the town’s proposed budget, a majority of voters, some 36-8, approved spending that will undoubtedly raise their taxes because they believe the spending is necessary.

We’ll never see that again in any Maine town if the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, is approved in November.

TABOR will take away any chance for any town to decide for itself how much to spend on government services for its citizens. It will force a tax cap on towns and force voters to pare costs without full regard for need.

For Mechanic Falls to adhere to the current mandated tax-cap at Saturday’s annual town meeting, it would have been forced to limit its budget increase to $25,253. Even Town Manager Dana Lee, who is among the most aggressive anti-property tax municipal administrators in Maine, recognized that limit was unrealistic.

“Increases for oil and gas on the warrant add up to more than $25,000,” Lee told voters, and then there’s additional spending for improvements to the public works and police department buildings on top of the cost of providing basic services.

It is not an option for voters to reject buying oil and gas, and it would be unwise to put off improvements on town buildings because delaying those improvements and repairs doesn’t fix anything. It just puts off the inevitable and, quite frequently, increases costs as repairs pile up.

Voters don’t have the option to dismiss or trim the bills for county or school assessments, so that leaves very little to trim at the municipal level.

Resident Jeff White is frustrated with continued tax increases and said so at Saturday’s meeting. He’s right in aguing that government can and should cut costs and limit spending wherever possible, but Mechanic Falls runs a pretty trim operation with Lee at the helm. If there were costs to be trimmed, he’d have already done that.

Under TABOR, Mechanic Falls would be forced – against a majority rule – to make painful cuts. Forced to forego capital improvements, forced to trim staff and forced to put off road repairs even if voters are willing to pay the cost for services they believe are truly important to themselves and their town.

TABOR diminishes our ability to govern ourselves by setting spending limits we cannot vote to overrule.

That’s not democracy.

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