AUGUSTA – Saying they need to sell the idea back home of hiking or expanding taxes on soda, beer, restaurant meals, movie tickets, tattoos and funeral services, legislators put off deciding a tax reform bill Friday.

The House voted Friday to send L.D. 1595 back to the Taxation Committee, spend two weeks explaining the package to the public and building support for it, then vote on Veto Day, which could be around June 30.

During a House Democratic caucus Friday in which many backed the idea of broadening the sales tax so that property and income taxes could be lowered, House Speaker John Richardson, D-Brunswick, announced that Gov. John Baldacci is now interested in the tax reform package.

On Friday, Baldacci met with Taxpayers for A Fair Budget, a coalition that has been pushing the bill. “Frankly, if he gets behind the bill it becomes a lot easier to pass,” Richardson said.

Baldacci’s biggest concern was that the package overall must not raise taxes more than it lower taxes, and he wants the bill analyzed by Maine Revenue Services, Richardson said.

Rep. Richard Woodbury, an independent from Yarmouth, co-chairman of the Taxation Committee, said he is encouraged by enthusiasm for the bill that many assumed had no chance of passing.

While it has enough votes to pass in the House, it does not in the Senate, Woodbury said, adding that no vote should happen until after lawmakers pass the state budget, then explain to residents how tax reform would benefit them.

Some legislators are confusing proposals for higher cigarette taxes in the state budget with higher beer taxes in the tax reform bill, lawmakers said. If legislators themselves don’t understand the proposal, the public could not be expected to, several said.

During the next two weeks, House Democrats agreed to meet with editorial boards, write letters to the editor, and knock on doors like they do in campaigns to explain the tax changes they’d like to make.

“In three weeks if the editorials aren’t saying, ‘Go for it,’ I’ll be surprised,” said Rep. Edward Finch, D-Fairfield.

“I think it’s going to be supported. It’s going to be a lot easier to vote for this with the public behind us, with the editorial writers behind us,” Finch said.

Rep. Deborah Pelletier-Simpson, D-Auburn, agreed.

“This is too important to hurry up and lose it,” she said. “I think we should try to bring the public along. I think they’ll like it.”

Rep. Nancy Smith, D-Monmouth, said the only constituents she has heard from so far are real estate agents unhappy about a proposed change in the real estate transfer tax. Smith said she explained that the tax would go up for some houses, down for others. Real estate agents concerned that the change could hurt the market aren’t considering the whole package, Smith said, which would provide greater property tax relief and be a gain for real estate.

Instead of looking at one line in the proposal, people need to consider the whole package, which would raise some taxes, lower others and provide more stable state revenue.

“I think it’s a terrific way to go,” Smith said. “I’m all for it.”

In recent weeks the idea has gained support in the State House, but outside “nobody took this seriously, and the lobbyists have not been abusing us the way they often do,” Smith said.

That will change, she predicted. “The lobbyists are on full alert.”

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