April 4, 2012
AUGUSTA – Republicans in the Maine House today rejected an amendment to a bill that increases compliance with the “tree growth” tax credit, which is intended for harvesting timber for commercial purposes.
The amendment would have strengthened transparency in the law by making harvest management plans public. The plans are required to qualify for the tax break and current law shields them from public examination.
“Right now we have no way to know if people are adhering to the law or if they are using it as shelter from paying their fair share of taxes,” said Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, who sponsored the amendment.
The tree growth program has come under scrutiny in recent months after reports showed that State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin may be misusing the tax break for his coastal Georgetown property, which is deeded to prohibit timber harvesting. Poliquin owns more than 12 acres of coastal property—10.3 of which is enrolled in the state's tax break program—totaling $500,000 in annual tax savings.
Poliquin has refused to disclose his tree growth plan and is now seeking to move his property to a different property tax shelter.
“If these plans are public, we can help close a loophole in the law that has clearly been taken advantage of,” said MacDonald, who also represents Georgetown.
MacDonald’s amendment would have been prospective taking effect in 2014.
“Often times a single landowner can avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes and other families are left to foot the bill,” said Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “Abuses are currently happening and the public should have a mechanism to get the truth. This won’t punish responsible landowners who really do qualify for the program.”
The bill, LD 1470, as passed, authorizes the Bureau of Forestry within the Department of Conservation to conduct periodic random sampling of land enrolled under the Maine Tree Growth Tax law.
The bill faces more votes in the House and Senate.
Jodi Quintero [MacDonald, Berry], 287-1488, c. 841-6279