AUGUSTA – Having fun in Maine could become more expensive if the Legislature OKs a Democrat-controlled task force’s recommendation to put new taxes on amusements.
The so-called Tax Expenditure Review Task Force is a product of the 126th Legislature’s biennial budget. To achieve “balance,” Democratic budget writers delegated the task of creating $40 million in new taxes to a committee controlled mostly by liberal Democrats and liberal interest groups.
On Monday, the tax hike task force recommended placing new taxes on amusements, such as movie tickets, ski passes, and other forms of entertainment.
“Amusement comes right to the very top of my list,” Sen. Anne Haskell (D-Portland) told the BDN. “I don’t find any good reason to continue its exemption,” she said.
The task force’s members include the chairs of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee Sen. Anne Haskell (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Adam Goode (D-Bangor), Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services Sawin Millett, Garrett Martin of the progressive Maine Center for Economic Policy, Catherine Lee of Lee International, and Ryan Low, former commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. Two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta) and Rep. Donald Marean (R-Hollis), are also on the task force.
A top Republican was unsurprised by the task forces recommendations.
“I figured they’d go for amusements,” said Sen. Doug Thomas (R-Somerset), the lead Republican on the Taxation Committee. “That gives them the least amount of fight.”
Thomas was hotly critical of the Legislature’s decision to raise taxes via task force. He said the budget probably wouldn’t have passed if it had originally included new taxes on amusements.
“There seems to be no end,” he said. “How much of our money do they need?”
Thomas said Democrats in the Legislature are using the threat of increased property taxes to “hold cities and towns hostage” to push their agenda. “We don’t have to raise taxes. We can cut spending,” he said.
Over the summer, Thomas was part of a small group of conservative lawmakers who proposed more than $200 million in spending cuts. The group’s recommendations were ignored by both Democrats and more moderate Republicans.
“There are all kinds of places to cut the budget,” he said. “It’s disingenuous to say otherwise.”
One area where Thomas and fellow conservatives would like to see spending reductions is administrative costs in the University of Maine system.
The Democrat-backed Fun Tax could bring in up to $20 million in new revenue and would likely be joined by $20 million in other new taxes on personal services like hair cuts and tanning salon sessions.
The task force’s recommendations mirror elements of the tax reform package voters rejected with a people’s veto in 2010 — but without corresponding reductions in income taxes.
If the tax hike task force cannot convince the Legislature to adopt its recommendations, then the $40 million sum will be taken from revenue sharing with municipalities, as originally proposed in Gov. Paul LePage’s January budget proposal.
State House sources said the likelihood of the Legislature accepting the tax hikes is slim.