AUGUSTA (AP) – State lawmakers face a mid-August deadline to agree on a tax reform package if they are to get a proposal on the November ballot, according to election officials in the Secretary of State’s Office.

Aug. 15 is not a legal deadline for the Legislature to act, said Julie Flynn, deputy secretary of state.

“What we do have is a time frame for printing ballots and providing absentee ballots to the towns,” Flynn said.

The Legislature adjourned its 2003 regular session in mid-June without passing a tax measure to compete with a proposal initiated by the Maine Municipal Association.

Lawmakers want an alternative question on the ballot, but have not agreed on what it should say.

Maine Municipal’s initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot seeks to boost the state’s share of local education costs to 55 percent. Legislative leaders say the proposal would cost taxpayers close to $300 million a year and would not necessarily lower property taxes.

Election officials say they also need to have a bond issue proposal in hand by Aug. 15 if it is to get on the ballot.

Lawmakers would have to meet in a special session and approve the alternative ballot proposal and bond package in order to send them out to voters. Leadership must find common ground before the rank-and-file are called in for a special session, said House Speaker Patrick Colwell.

“The world’s not going to stop if we don’t do either of these things, but we’d like to do it,” said Colwell, D-Gardiner.

Lawmakers’ delay in advancing a competing measure underscores their unwillingness to boost the state’s share of education costs to 55 percent, said Jeff Nevins, communications director for the Maine Municipal Association.

“The Legislature for many, many years has tinkered and tried to move tax reform along and has not been able to get it off the ground,” he said. “This is more evidence of their inability. They just don’t seem to want to address this issue.”

The state now funds about 43 percent of education costs. Much of the remainder comes from municipal property taxes.

AP-ES-07-09-03 0831EDT

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