AUGUSTA — With precious little time left before a two-year state spending plan must be passed, the top Democratic budget negotiator said Friday there’s little chance for a comprehensive tax reform package identified by Gov. Paul LePage as his top fiscal priority.

“It’s difficult, at this point, to do any meaningful kind of tax reform,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.

Friday was the original deadline set by Rotundo and Republican Sen. Jim Hamper of Oxford, the committee’s Senate chairman, but the committee’s work is far from finished. Appropriators are eyeing May 29 as a target date to finalize a spending plan for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

That plan must be in place by July 1 and will require two-thirds majority support in both the House and Senate to meet that deadline.

LePage kick-started a robust tax reform conversation in January, when he unveiled a $6.57 billion budget proposal centered on a $300 million income tax cut, paid for in part by an increased sales tax and expansion of the goods and services to which it’s applied. The governor’s plan also would have eliminated the estate tax and reduced the corporate income tax.

Republicans bristled at a plan that so closely resembled one they campaigned against in 2010. Democrats put forward a counterproposal they said was a “better deal” for the middle class, but for months, the GOP remained silent.

Last week, Republican lawmakers came forward with their own tax reform proposal. Much to LePage’s chagrin, it was not as transformative as his comprehensive plan.

Still, it apparently set the stage for negotiations among legislators to begin in earnest.

But Rotundo said negotiations are impossible because Maine Revenue Services has refused to conduct and distribute the analysis of the GOP plan that the Appropriations Committee has requested.

“We don’t have the cooperation of the Maine Revenue Services at this point. We haven’t gotten anything back from them,” Rotundo said. “You can’t put together a tax package without analysis, and without good numbers.”

Hamper, however, said he’s still optimistic that some manner of tax reform could make it into the final budget bill that the Appropriations Committee sends to the full Legislature.

“I want to see something along these lines in the budget,” he said. “I want us to do something this time around.”


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