AUBURN – About 140 people, mostly senior citizens, turned out Monday for a two-and-half-hour discussion of the proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Clustered tightly in tables of 10 in a ballroom at the Hilton Garden Inn, participants heard a presentation from AARP, which opposes TABOR, watched a video from Colorado critical of a similar measure in that state, and asked questions of an expert panel.

The message from AARP State Director Jud Dolphin and other speakers: TABOR’s a bad idea.

TABOR is a citizen’s initiative that will appear on November ballot. It would limit increases in state and local government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth and require voter approval for any tax or fee increase. Increases beyond the limits would have to win support from two-thirds of the Legislature or governing body and then also be sent to voters for approval.

The event, which included lunch, was sponsored by AARP and featured an introduction to the ins-and-outs of TABOR. It also came with a strong anti-TABOR appeal focusing on issues that are more likely to affect older Mainers.

During her presentation, Nancy Kelleher, AARP’s director of advocacy, talked about Maine’s ability to supplement the federal Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, its ability to react with emergency money for the Ice Storm ’98 and to provide extra financial support for Meals on Wheels when high gasoline prices threatened volunteer drivers.

“TABOR sounds too good to be true,” Kelleher said. “I urge you to look beyond the question.”

The group also watched a video of Coloradans speaking about the negative effects the TABOR constitutional amendment, which was passed there in 1992, has had on the state.

At the end, the seniors were encouraged to discuss the presentation among themselves and then submit written questions to a panel, which included Dolphin, Kelleher and Ed Cervone of the Maine Center for Economic Progress, a liberal think tank that opposes TABOR.

A common theme throughout the questions was a frustration with property taxes and a fear that TABOR could mean curtailed services.

One questioner found fault with state spending on welfare, too-large school bureaucracies and unaccountable politicians. The writer finished with a common theme among many TABOR supporters: “We’ve got to send them a message.”

There are no guarantees of that with TABOR, Dolphin said.

“It does nothing about prioritizing the things we care about,” he said.

“People say that we’ve got to send them a message,” Dolphin said. “The problem is, what if it’s the wrong message?”

More TABOR information, pro and con, is available online at www.notabor.org and www.taxpayerbillofrights.com.

There will be a TABOR forum at 6 p.m. Sept. 28 at Auburn Middle School.


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