For taxpayers, this one bill rules them all

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On the cover of the December issue of the Maine Townsman, the publication of the Maine Municipal Association, an oddly hued assembly of silhouetted legislators are depicted as striding (or perhaps floating) across Astroturf hills toward the looming State House.

Growing in the middle of a muddy path leading to the capital’s dome is a tilted white placard advertising a simple – and oft-stated – slogan: “Reducing Maine’s Tax Burden.”

The illustration’s message is clear: as the 123rd Maine Legislature starts its work today, the legacy of its existence will be its ability, or inability, to enact practical and effective tax reform.

Previous efforts resulted in the watery tax relief bill colloquially known as LD 1. The legislative pole position is now occupied by Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, for his bill to increase reimbursement for those suffering on jury duty. Following Nutting are some 2,430 other bills submitted for consideration.

Therein lies the problem. While the 123rd’s crystalline duty is tax relief, more than a half-mile’s worth of bills faces overburdened citizen legislators. The 2,400 bills submitted for this session constitute an increase of about 300 from the previous session, and 500 from two sessions ago.

Recent legislative “bill load” peaked with the 113th Legislature in 1987-1988, which considered 2,712 bills when it convened, followed closely by the 119th Legislature in 1999-2000, which submitted 2,693 bills for consideration. By comparison, the 123rd’s agenda seems more angel food than chocolate torte.

Some of the bills ahead for the 123rd can be rightfully described as airy, as well. There’s a streetlight at Allen Avenue and Plymouth Street in Portland that needs acceptance by the Maine Department of Transportation, so says Rep. Boyd Marley, D-Portland.

Rep. Johnathan McKane, R-Newcastle, wants a 25-horsepower limit on motorboats on the waters of Muddy Pond in Damariscotta. Further up the coast, in Rockland, Rep. Ed Mazurek is asking to change an offense often resolved uncivilly – lobster trap molestation – into a civil penalty.

Then there’s Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, D-Biddeford, who’s calling for an end to the scourge of school custodians: carpet. Her bill, LD 20, would prohibit the use of carpeting in new school construction or existing school renovation.

There are likely profound and pressing reasons for each of the 2,400-odd bills submitted to the Legislature this session. Rep. Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, the speaker of the House, said Tuesday’s he’s encouraging his peers to set an “ambitious” schedule.

“We have our work cut out for us,” he said in a release. “I am making it clear to House members, especially committee chairs, that there will be no easing into the session – our work starts now.”

Cummings’ strong words are appreciated, but only if they direct action toward tax reform and away from streetlights and school carpeting. The clock starts for the 123rd Legislature today, and it’s off to an inauspicious beginning by having buried itself in thousands of bills.

Only one, for Maine taxpayers, really matters.

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