Time to take back tax talk, Gov. Baldacci

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Do it, governor.

Equivocating over a special legislative session on tax reform and spending relief – our preferred term for this convoluted process – is emboldening forces wishing to rip this issue from your hands and put it before voters.

The next Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative – christened the “son of TABOR” by some – is within its last trimester, according to the Maine Heritage Policy Center. Other groups, including GrowSmart Maine and the Alliance for Maine’s Future, are marshaling wonks and analysts to develop another competing plan.

This is the worst possible scenario. Following TABOR’s defeat in November 2006, weary opponents of the restrictive tax and expenditure cap grimly predicted if the initiative were resurrected, it couldn’t again be vanquished. Imagine the confusion, and competition, if two plans were weighed at the same time.

We can, and it makes our heads hurt just thinking about it. These taxation and spending issues are complicated enough, without three voices pitching the merits of their medicine simultaneously.

Reports from Augusta’s summer vacation indicate you’re having quiet, closed-door meetings with staff about your tax reform and spending relief legislation. Your spokesman told the State House News Service’s Victoria Wallack the plan must “include spending cuts, spending restraints that would reduce the tax burden, not just move it around.”

Bravo on the rhetoric, governor. But your ideas must have the right results, not the right philosophy. Quiet, closed-door development of the last well-intentioned tax reform proposal was a harbinger of its doom, as lobbyists and political opponents attacked the process as insulated against the realistic needs and wishes of Maine’s citizens.

Yours needs to be more transparent, to signal that you understand this obstacle. A special session could do this, by introducing your thoughts to the full Legislature, and stealing the spotlight from the special-interest groups to put it back where it belongs: on developing and passing significant tax reform and spending-relief legislation.

We’d like to see a special session, instead of having others carry the tax reform and spending-relief conversation through the remainder of this year. A session solely on taxation issues, before they can be drowned amid other attention-grabbers come January, would tell taxpayers – and your critics – taxation and spending are a priority.

“I am very serious about spending reform,” you recently told reporter Mal Leary, of the Capital News Service.

It’s time to show it, governor.

Call a special session.

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