The state is so cash-strapped that it has stopped its practice of widely distributing Maine income tax forms and booklets.

Beginning this tax season, 1040 forms and instruction booklets will not be available at libraries, town halls, banks, local IRS offices or any other places that serve the public. Only taxpayers who filed paper forms last year will receive them in the mail this year. All others will have to call to request the forms, print them off the Maine Revenue Services’ Web site or file electronically.

The change is expected to save the state $156,000.

“As we’ve pushed electronic filing, we’ve noticed that in public places like libraries and post offices and municipal offices that our booklets, after the filing seasons, there were piles of them just hanging around,” said Jerome Gerard, executive director of Maine Revenue Services.

But library officials and others say they almost always ran out of the paper forms they received and sometimes needed more, often for people who were elderly, poor, homeless or computer illiterate. They believe this sudden lack of easily accessible tax forms — with no notice to taxpayers — is going to hurt people’s ability to file their taxes.

“They’ve become available online, but that’s difficult for people who don’t have computer skills, and there are a lot of people who don’t have computer skills,” said Melanie Coombs, director of the Farmington Public Library.

A few years ago the state printed 900,000 forms for 650,000 potential filers. Of those 650,000 people, only 300,000 to 400,000 had filed by paper the year before, Gerard said.

Last year, in an effort to save money and boost efficiency, Maine Revenue Services substantially reduced the number of forms it sent out. Librarians, in particular, said they noticed the difference.

“We ran out within a couple of days,” Coombs said.

Once they ran out of forms, they couldn’t get more. Some libraries allowed people to print off what they needed from the state Web site, but the forms and instruction booklets were long and the libraries soon couldn’t afford the cost of printing them out for everyone. Some libraries charged patrons for printing, but many patrons couldn’t afford it.

When told they would have to file their taxes electronically or call the state — a long-distance toll call — to get the forms they needed, many people got angry. And they blamed the library.

“We’re sort of the end result; we’re the ones who take people’s unhappiness,” Coombs said. “We sort of field the problems, and it’s not a good situation for us.”

This year, without notice, libraries and other locations didn’t get any income tax forms. The state also stopped sending out paper copies of some other tax forms, including those needed to file corporate and estate taxes. Some town officials say they also hadn’t gotten the booklets for the Maine Residents Property Tax and Rent Refund program, though Gerard said those booklets are still being printed and distributed.

Instead of income tax forms, the state sent libraries and other public service locations small stacks of fliers to be handed out to taxpayers. The handouts tell people to print their forms from the Web site, call the state to order what they want or file electronically.

Less than a week into the new year, libraries have started fielding questions from angry taxpayers. Some libraries are already running out of the informational fliers.

Gerard said Maine Revenue Services didn’t notify people of the change because it figured the fliers would be adequate. He said he hadn’t gotten any calls from taxpayers about the lack of forms.

“I don’t think it’ll be a big number, but I think people will wonder why,” he said.

He said the state has done everything it can to trim printing costs, including consolidating forms, reducing the size of the instruction booklets and cutting the colors it used. The state used to spend more than $1 million on the printing, he said. This year it will spend $136,000 for 311,000 booklets.

Librarians say they understand the state is trying to do the right thing by saving money. But they also believe that savings is coming at someone else’s expense.

“It hurts the people who have the least resources,” said Ellen Gilliam, deputy director of the Lewiston Public Library.

In an effort to help people who want to look at the forms online or file their taxes electronically but who don’t have the computer skills to do so, the Lewiston library has offered assistance through its Digital Divide Computer Lab. It is open Monday, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The library hopes to expand the lab’s hours before the end of tax season.

For those who want or need paper, the library has printed common tax forms and booklets and has made them available for the public to photocopy. But the photocopy charge is 20 cents a page.

“It can get kind of pricey,” Gilliam said. “That’s a lot of money.”

Taxpayers can request free paper forms from Maine Revenue Services by calling 624-7894. They can also download the forms at www.maine.gov/revenue/forms or file electronically for free at www.maine.gov/revenue.

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