I am starting to hear from many homeowners who have received the bad news about the property tax refunds they have come to rely upon: the check is not coming or the refund they do receive will be substantially smaller than the ones they are used to.
Lost in the discussion of the two-year budget the Maine Legislature passed at the 11th hour this past June was the repeal of the popular “Circuitbreaker” program that provided property tax relief to low-income and elderly homeowners and those who rent. Those who qualified for it were eligible for refunds of up to $1,600 a year.
In the budget the Circuitbreaker program was replaced by the Property Tax Fairness Credit, which provides a maximum $300 refund. For those 70 and older, it’s $400.
The repeal of the Circuitbreaker program was one of the many reasons I could not vote in favor of this budget. People who are on low and fixed incomes counted on those refund checks to pay for groceries, medication, their electric bill, and many other life necessities. Making ends meet is difficult enough, and ending this property tax relief program will not make things any easier for them.
Instead of targeting property tax relief that benefits the poor and the elderly, I believe we first should have looked at other areas of the budget to make cuts, such as the tens of millions that are spent on renewable energy subsidies that have produced little or no rate reductions, and in some cases, driven up costs.
The budget also included a 10 percent increase in the state sales tax and a 14 percent increase in the meals and lodging tax. Yes, those are really the correct percentages. Some have tried to minimize these increases by saying that these are very small increases; but for those counting on every penny, even small increases are too much.
These tax increases and the suspension of the Circuitbreaker program are part of the same problem. Instead of looking at ways to control costs, we in Augusta continue to ask hard-working Mainers for more of their paychecks.
I believe that this is wrong. When the Legislature goes back into session in January, one of my top priorities will be restoring funding to the Circuitbreaker program.
Senator Gary Plummer (R-Cumberland) represents Senate District 12 which includes the Cumberland County towns of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, and Windham as well as the York County town of Hollis.