House Republicans reverse earlier vote after Democratic members push for property tax relief
March 23, 2012
AUGUSTA – Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, celebrated a big win for property tax payers on Thursday, March 22, after most Republican House members of the Taxation Committee reversed their opposition to a bill that would allow property tax abatements on homes that are uninhabitable. All but one Republican representative joined Democrats in supporting an amended version of the bill.
“The success of this committee vote continues my efforts to work in a bipartisan way to support common sense policies for the people of Maine,” said Graham. “I hope the fact that I have been able to successfully get overwhelming bipartisan support for all four of the bills considered by my colleagues in my first term in office shows the people of Maine that progress is still possible here.”
The original bill, LD 1878, “An Act to Allow Reimbursement and Abatement of Property Taxes Paid or Owed on a Primary Residence Destroyed by Fire,” would allow a municipality to give a tax abatement to a family who loses their primary residence to fire. The bill would not have applied to land, outbuildings, vacation homes or commercial property. The bill would have required that a municipal fire inspector or the State Fire Marshall’s office designate the home as uninhabitable before an abatement could be sought by a homeowner.
“There is one simple reason for presenting this bill, no one should have to pay property taxes on a home that does not exist or is uninhabitable,” said Graham in her testimony before the Taxation Committee. “This bill preserves municipalities’ home rule to allow a reimbursement or abatement.”
On Tuesday, March 20, a majority of the committee voted “ought not to pass,” but the Democrats on the committee voted to pass the bill with some clarifying amendments. On Thursday, after discussing the Democratic report created by Rep. Graham and Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the Democratic lead on the committee, all but one of the Republican state representatives on the committee changed their earlier votes and supported the bill. None of the three Senators on the committee were present for the vote and Rep. Paul Waterhouse, R-Bridgeton, remained in opposition to the tax cut measure.
“Maine people do not want to tax what is not there,” said Rep. Berry. “Many other states allow for similar abatements. There is no reason we should continue to require taxation of what does not exist.”
Berry and Graham presented an amendment to the current law related to property tax abatements that simply replaces the term “infirmity” with the term “hardship.” Geoff Herman, representing the Maine Municipal Association, agreed with the Democratic members that this would allow towns to abate the property taxes of people whose homes have been destroyed by fire or natural disaster, without raising potential legal problems. Herman had originally testified against the bill.
Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Somerset, testified in support of the bill, explaining that his family experienced a fire when he was a child. He remembered when his parents complained about receiving their property tax bill on a house that no longer existed.
“Let’s err on the side of the taxpayer and not the tax collector, please,” testified Thomas.
Senators Jon Courtney, R-York, David Hastings, R-Oxford, and Richard Woodbury, U-Yarmouth, have until Monday to vote on the bill.
Jodi Quintero [Graham], 287-1488, c. 841-6279