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Wednesday, Oct. 7, 3:46 p.m.
Maine ballot 2009 | News

Question 2 aims to reduce excise tax

Question 2 on Maine’s Nov. 3 ballot reduces the excise tax paid when registering newer vehicles. While it will reduce taxes for Mainers, it will decrease state revenue if passed.

Question 2 — “an act to decrease the automobile excise tax, and promote energy” — is the result of a voter referendum initiative by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank based in Portland.

The official ballot question states: “Do you want to cut the rate of the municipal excise tax by an average of 55 percent on motor vehicles less than six years old and exempt hybrid and other alternative-energy and highly fuel efficient motor vehicles from sales tax and three years of excise tax?”

Under this referendum, there will be no reduction in excise taxes for motor vehicles older than six years.

Many believe this initiative will be effective in decreasing the amount of tax money Maine citizens have to pay on their vehicles. Chris Cinquemani, public relations director of Maine Leads — a Yes on 2 campaign organization — said if Question 2 passes, “The average Maine family will save an average of $800 over the first few years of owning their vehicle.”

Opponents feel lowering excise tax rates will be a high cost to Maine’s municipalities.

“If [Maine’s municipalities] lose 40 percent of excise tax revenue, they are going to be hurting,” said Maine Rep. Jim Martin, D-Orono. “We can’t not pave or plow the roads. People must be able to safely get to work and school.”

Proponents of Question 2 argue it will provide economic security for Maine’s struggling domestic auto dealerships.

Cinquemani said Question 2 will “boost [the] auto industry that has been struggling, because when we reduce the price of newer cars more people are going to be buying [them].” Cinquemani said the Maine population will now be buying more fuel-efficient vehicles, which will advance the green initiative.

Martin said because of the way the bill is structured, only about 32 percent of the people in Maine will benefit from the tax break.

“Local communities are going to have to make up lost revenue, either through cuts to road maintenance or increase in property taxes,” Martin said. “[There’s going to be a] shift on property owners who are going to have to pick up the slack.”

College students will be another large group that will be affected by this bill, according to state Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono.

“College students can’t afford to buy brand new hybrid cars,” she said. “[They are] mostly driving old cars that already have costly maintenance, and these people will [have] higher tax burdens in favor of people who can afford to buy hybrids.”

“Out-of-state college students are shocked at how expensive [Maine’s excise tax] is, which could be going toward books and school,” Cinquemani said. If Question 2 passes, Cinquemani said, “College students will be able to keep more of their money.”