We dislike Maine's automobile excise tax.
Paying an annual chunk of money for owning a car grates against our more Libertarian sensibilities. That the tax is based on a vehicle's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price also adds insult to agony, since MSRP is a fairy tale figure. Nobody pays it.
Yet even though the excise tax provokes this visceral reaction, we do not favor Question 2, which asks Maine voters to chop it in half, and create tax incentives to purchase "green" vehicles. We might be ornery, but we're not myopic.
Cutting the excise tax like this would be worse than leaving it intact.
Here's why: A tax shift will happen. It's unavoidable. Cutting the excise tax will be felt on property taxes, as municipal governments have few places to raise revenue. The money must come from somewhere; that somewhere will be owners of homes and commercial property.
Halving the excise tax does nothing to reform its underlying unfairness. What's needed is a sensible tax, not just a lower bad one. For lawmakers, the automobile excise tax is overdue for attention from the same wise minds behind this session's laudable tax-reform bill.
The chief flaw with Maine's tax is its basis, the MSRP.
Massachusetts, for example, bases its excise tax on the value of vehicles, a much fairer assessment. Oklahoma bases its excise tax on a new vehicle's sale price or a used vehicle's value, which are both realistic.
Setting Maine excise tax to vehicle value or sale price could accomplish several goals: make the tax more defensible, reduce its cost to taxpayers and weaken any disincentive to new automobile sales the current excise tax may create. Let's try doing this first, before considering ideas like Question 2, which is a blatant anti-tax initiative clad in an ill-fitting green suit.
While the plan it espouses certainly fulfills some agendas — particularly those of the organization trumpeting it, Maine Leads — the initiative as a whole makes little sense for voters and taxpayers. The vast majority of Maine vehicle owners pay minimum excise taxes (72 percent in Lewiston, for example) so the prospective cuts are minimal and will be more than likely offset by increases to property taxes.
Yes, of course: We dislike the excise tax, and cutting it in half would feel good.
But it's not the smart thing to do. That's why we say vote No on Question 2.