(UPDATED x4) Maine Mayors Warn of Revenue Sharing Cuts, Tax Increases and Impact on Communities
(Originally posted 11 Jun 2013) Last week a press conference was held at the State House’s Welcome Center where leaders from Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, Augusta, Gardiner, Waterville, Sanborn and Bangor addressed the media and voiced concerns regarding the impact Governor LePage’s proposed zero revenue sharing cuts will have on their communities. Dozens more municipalities across the state have sent resolutions and communications to the Legislature protesting the cuts.
Augusta Mayor Bill Stokes said, “Maine communities have already absorbed a 30% cut in revenue sharing. This year, we are receiving just under $98 million, instead of the $140 million we would have received by law. Now there are proposals to cut that by $20 million a year or more. That will mean a significant property tax increase in Augusta.”
“Even the best of these (Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee) proposals means a loss of nearly 50% million to municipalities over the next two years. We have been cutting services and trimming payroll for several years. We simply cannot absorb that kind of cut without raising taxes. Revenue sharing is an obligation, a bill the state should pay.”
She had spoken up the previous evening at a Waterville city council meeting as well, blasting the Governor’s proposal:
“This is really a ridiculous position for all of us to be in,”
- Heck said of the man who was mayor of the city from 2004 until he became governor in 2010.
“When the governor was mayor, clearly he used some profane language to describe exactly what he’s doing to us in a much worse way.”
She continued: “I’m not sure why the governor is interested in making sure hospitals get paid. But the mayors feel that the state needs to pay its bills when it comes to what it’s mandated to pay us in revenue sharing.”
Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett noted that “we have a revenue problem in Maine and we need to look at additional streams of revenue”:
“We are calling on all legislators to commit to preventing this tax shift to the property tax. As we recommended in a letter to the Governor last month, this tax shift can be prevented by some modest shifts to the sales tax. The Mayors Coalition is supportive of proposals that temporarily raise the sales tax to 6% and raise the lodging tax.”
Jonathan Labonte, Mayor of Auburn, who noted that his city has been working to share services with nearby Lewiston for some time now, added that “Eliminating revenue sharing would effectively undermine the state’s 40 year cooperative agreement with municipalities. These are the revenues that keep your property taxes from skyrocketing and help to pay for municipal services such as firefighters, schools and road maintenance.”
Also speaking out were Cathy Conlow (VIDEO), Bangor’s city manager, Maura Herlihy of Sanford and Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett for Mayor Macdonald (VIDEO), who mentioned at length the expensive, multiple fires his city had recently endured:
Mayor of Portland Michael Brennan (VIDEO) concluded by asking, “all legislators to work to prevent a property tax increase in virtually every community in the state.”
(Bonus: Q&A clip)
UPDATE #1: Originally posted in June 2013 and oh, what a difference a year made. In June 2014, Governor Paul LePage selected Auburn Mayor Jonathan Labonte to serve as Office of Policy and Management director, as outgoing head Richard Rosen had been tapped to temporarily take over at Department of Financial Services for the retiring Sawin Millett.
- The chance to serve the state of Maine and the governor was one he (LaBonte) couldn’t turn down, he said.
“When a governor calls and asks you join their team, that’s a unique opportunity,” LaBonte said.
LaBonte said he did not believe his appointment had anything to do with election-year politics.
“If there’s anything political about this, it is the governor was eager to see this office created and is looking to see works delivered out of it,” LaBonte said.
Yesterday, the LePage administration continued to roll out the governor’s proposed FY 2016/2017 biennial budget as now DAFS Commissioner Richard Rosen, deputy commissioner Dr. Michael Allen and Labonte sat down with Maine media, a day after Rosen presented the budget to the newly seated 127th Legislative Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. This jumps out:
- LaBonte, who also is the director of LePage’s office of policy management, said Wednesday during a briefing with reporters that fears the proposal would decimate municipal finances are overblown.
He said in 2008 revenue sharing only accounted for 5 percent of municipal budgets statewide and that the figure had decreased to 3.5 percent by 2012.
“So revenue sharing is not a large share of those municipal budgets and certainly not a large share of what’s going toward those expenditures,” LaBonte said.
When revenue sharing was first put in place, its intent was to provide property tax relief. Because the funding was directed to municipal government and did not go directly to property owners, they never ultimately benefited, LaBonte said.
On Friday, Governor LePage attempted to minimize the effects of municipal revenue sharing and the impact its removal will have on Maine’s 460 plus cities and towns.
So same as 2013 Governor Paul LePage thought 2009 Mayor LePage wrong* on municipal revenue sharing, apparently 2015 OPM Director/ LePage team player Jonathan Labonte seems to now think that 2013 Auburn Mayor Labonte was making a big deal out of nothing.
UPDATE #2: OPM Director/ Auburn Mayor Labonte has responded via Twitter in an interesting exchange as well as Bangor city councilor Ben Sprague:
When the email is received, it will be shared here. ~AP
UPDATE #3: The February 2013 email exchanges between Auburn Mayor Jonathan Labonte, members of the Maine Mayor Coalition and legal counsel were shared by Labonte moments ago:
(2/16/15) As Labonte continues to see his own position as not inconsistent, this post is being updated below with more conversations via Twitter today.