Downeast Coastal Press
Op-Ed January 4, 2005
Xenophobic Shell Game –
For Some, Tax ‘Reform’ Equals Tax Discrimination
By Erich Veyhl
A revealing example of how the “public sector” refuses to meaningfully address the property tax crisis appears in Belfast city manager Terry St. Peter's supposed “Simplest form of homeowner's property tax relief” in the December 24, 2004 Bangor Daily News. St. Peter reveals the mentality behind yet another inequitable shell game gaining prominence in Augusta in the name of “reform.”
St. Peter admits that “voters indicated they want to see property tax relief across the board” – and then contradicts himself by promoting a deliberately inequitable rebate plan explicitly intended to exclude those he thinks he can get away with heaping more taxes on: “Some legislators,” he tells us, “say we want to have targeted relief so that out–of–state business owners don't benefit, so that rich people who have second homes here don't benefit, so that wealthy property owners on the coast don't benefit.”
Appeals to envy and attacks on business and “people from away” by demagogues are nothing new, and neither are dishonest misrepresentations of the middle class as the “rich” who don't “need” tax reform – intended to manipulate voters into an otherwise blatant discrimination. The recent clamor from St. Peter and others to soak businesses and nonresidents as if they were some kind of aliens without the rights of residents – despite the constitutional requirement that there be no such tax discrimination – is a despicably unethical scheme to loot a minority who can't even vote, and it has dangerous implications for everyone.
For many of us, whether Maine residents or not, most of our assets are in our property, a value that has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of education or the rest of Maine's out–of–control taxes and controls turning the state into a third–world economy. Especially on the coast, property taxes escalating with no end in sight, year after year after year into the future, are devastating and unjust no matter where one's “residency.” The escalation is directly caused by state tax policy arbitrarily imposing costs on owners of land, not by “property values” and not by “people from away.”
Evading equitable tax reform by shifting the burden to “nonresidents,” who have the least to do with government problems and spending, is an open substitute for politically inspired looting of a powerless minority. Will they next try to impose property taxes on the bank accounts and retirement investments of tourists from out of state? Why not just invade New Hampshire and plunder the state's banks, or like a third–world dictatorship, confiscate all the property of “foreigners”? The tax mentality in Augusta is clearly limited only by legal jurisdiction, i.e., what they think they can get away with.
But the issue is broader than the attack on nonresidents. Everyone knows that the politicians are addressing property taxes at all only because they feel threatened by referendum questions threatening to go around them. Their consistent response has been to head that off with shell games attempting to give the impression of tax reform while refusing to limit the tax take. “Rebate” schemes leave the politicians in control of dispensing the money, allowing them to temporarily placate one group of voters in a divide–and–conquer strategy that leaves everyone vulnerable to future political manipulation at the expense of any political minority.
A government that has so little regard for people's rights that it will exploitatively plunder “nonresidents” will do anything it can get away with to anyone. Why, they might even come up with a 1930s gangland loan shark scheme to grab a “piece of the action” by turning property owners into permanent tax debtors. Oops, they're already promoting that, aren't they? The Baldacci “loan” scheme promoted in place of limits on taxes clearly illustrates how they regard your property as their's first.
Serious and honest property tax reform means knocking off the political games, reducing and limiting the taxes across the board with corresponding cuts and limits on spending and state–mandated costs; and it means getting rid of the unfair excess burden of taxes assessed primarily and arbitrarily for land value (and no other assets) regardless of the owner's ability or willingness to pay for government problems and costs completely unrelated to his property – or his “residency.” Augusta doesn't want to do that, and those in charge hope you aren't paying attention to how they plan the latest shell game to preserve their power to impose ruinous taxes and control over anyone they can.This op-ed also appeared in the Millinocket Magic City News 1/19/05 with the following postscipt.
Since this was written the situation in Augusta has become even more ugly as a whole range of tax shifting devices using discriminatory partial exemptions, rebates, higher mill rates and a new 7% "sales" tax on income to be paid by individuals renting their own property (in addition to income taxes) are being steam rolled into place. The governor and the legislature are implementing a system of “progressive” property taxes, mimicking Maine's steep progressive income tax, tied to income and land value and aimed to further pile taxes on a minority consisting of owners of business, land, camps, homes on increasing land value, and homes that are not a primary residence. Partial exemptions are cynically intended to prevent a widespread revolt. The worst discrimination is against those who are not official “residents”, i.e., who cannot vote at all. The plans include several Constitutional amendments to legalize politically motivated discrimination in local taxation, gutting the concept of objective law and Constitutional equal protection. The governor's budget calls for spending that is up again this year, thereby raising total taxes, while an orchestrated campaign of supporting editorials and op-eds continues to tell the public that “tax relief” is now here.
Copyright © 2005 Erich Veyhl, All Rights Reserved