AUGUSTA (AP) – State House celebrations over enactment of a major property tax relief bill have obscured a lack of progress on a half dozen constitutional amendments that are closely linked to the successful legislation.

The amendments – including one submitted by Gov. John Baldacci – remained bottled up in the House, some lacking sufficient support to win final passage so they can be sent to voters and one all but dead.

Sen. Joseph Perry said Wednesday he’s prepared to send a lifeline to the bills and send them to the Taxation Committee he co-chairs in order to keep them from dying on the floor.

“I think they’re too important to let die,” said Perry, D-Bangor. “I am not afraid to let the voters decide if they make sense.”

The bills were relegated to the shadows last week when Baldacci, with great fanfare, signed a bill to increase school subsidies, impose local and state government spending caps and broaden existing property tax programs.

During his State of the State speech Tuesday night, the Democratic governor drew attention to the legislation, thanking supporters from both parties and labeling the bill as “comprehensive, bipartisan, bold, and indeed historic.”

Baldacci said the bill will mean average savings of $207 to property taxpayers in two years.

A proposed constitutional amendment that accompanied Baldacci’s tax-relief bill, after extended committee discussion during the last several weeks, remained unfinished Wednesday. The bill seeks to allow municipalities to limit changes in tax rates applying to properties that remain principal residences.

When it finished its work on Baldacci’s property tax measure, the Joint Select Committee on Property Tax Reform also sent five other proposed amendments to the floor for review. Perry said they were designed by the committee as “simply tools, local options” to allow communities to tailor tax relief programs to their particular needs.

Perry, who served on the select tax panel as well, said the proposed amendments are most useful to service-center and coastal communities.

Those bills would allow the Legislature:

• to let municipalities adopt tax rates on secondary residential property that are as much as 25 percent higher than the rate for other property;

• to permit or require municipalities to limit the rate of increase in the taxable value of small business land;

• to allow municipalities to adopt property tax assistance programs that reflect residents’ ability to pay;

• to let municipalities exempt from property tax a portion of the value of homesteads, and

• to assess waterfront land used for commercial fishing activities based on the current use of that property. Similar tax treatment is allowed for farms, open space and woodlands.

The governor agrees with Perry that it’s important to keep the proposed amendments alive, said Baldacci spokesman Lee Umphrey.

“The governor wants to keep the pressure on (and) keep them from falling through the cracks,” said the spokesman.

During his annual speech to the Legislature Tuesday, Baldacci also discussed plans for another of his top priorities – to submit a bond package for research and development, transportation, higher education, environmental protection and conservation.

Baldacci said Wednesday he is not entering next week’s discussions with Democratic and Republican leaders with a total borrowing figure in mind, and he wasn’t even sure how many separate bond issues would be proposed.

“We’re trying a different approach. There aren’t any lines drawn anyplace,” Baldacci said during an informal meeting with reporters. “I haven’t started out with any preconditions.”

Bond talks bogged down and collapsed in the closing hours of last year’s session as the two sides failed to agree on a borrowing total.



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.