AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – Try as they might to avoid the question, it keeps coming up on the campaign trail: what do legislative candidates think of the tax cap proposal?

Some legislative candidates say politicians have no right to voice their opinions because the issue is now in the people’s hands. Others are making their message loud and clear.

Rep. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, who is running against Sen. Pamela Hatch, D-Skowhegan, in Senate District 26, says it is impractical to avoid talking about the cap.

“When someone is shouting about taxes through the screen door, you have to say something back,” said Mills, who opposes the cap.

But some candidates believe legislators have had their chance to do something and failed, and they should now keep quiet.

“It’s inappropriate for the Legislature to take a position,” said Sen. Carl Turner, R-Cumberland, who won’t say how he plans to vote on the cap.

Question 1 on the Nov. 2 ballot would cap property taxes at 1 percent of assessed value. Supporters of the proposal say it’s needed to stop out-of-control taxes and spending; critics say it will force devastating cuts in education, fire and police protection, and other services.

The measure appears to have less support in Aroostook County, where low land values mean a 1 percent tax cap would slash municipal budgets hard.

Republican Dean Clukey of Houlton, who is running against Democrat Edward Buckley of Presque Isle in Senate District 34, says he believes all the legislative candidates in Aroostook County oppose the tax cap.

“We need to do something about high taxes,” he said. “But we feel it may be too radical.”

In southern Maine, Brian Bicknell, the Republican candidate for House District 107 in Yarmouth, tells potential voters that he’s a “reluctant supporter” of the cap, while his opponent, Rep. Dick Woodbury, an independent, opposes it.

It’s far from perfect legislation, Bicknell says, but it presents voters with their only opportunity for tax relief.

Woodbury embraces the Maine State Chamber of Commerce’s plan to provide targeted relief to people who have high tax burdens and also cap annual increases in government spending.

Republican Dana Dow of Waldoboro, who is in a tight race with incumbent Sen. Christopher Hall, D-Bristol, for the Senate seat in District 20, tells voters he wants to pass a tax relief measure that caps tax increases at the rate of inflation.

He compares the state’s tax burden to being on the fourth floor of a building. “The tax cap seeks to get back to the lobby by jumping out the window,” Dow said. “I want to turn around by walking back down the stairs.”

In the race for Senate District 12, both Rep. Joseph Bruno, R-Raymond, and Democrat William Diamond of Windham oppose the cap.

Bruno tells voters that tax relief will happen only if Democrats lose their majority status in the Legislature. “There are better ways of doing it,” he said. “But the problem is that Democrats control the whole agenda.”

Diamond says both parties are to blame for the failure to address tax reform. He opposes the tax cap, but says so only if asked. “When it gets to this point, it’s the people’s vote,” he said.

AP-ES-09-27-04 1505EDT

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