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Our mission is to respond to the global warming crisis by promoting energy efficiency, alternative energy, and environmental initiatives throughout the town of York, Maine.

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What about Question 2?

On Nov. 3, all Maine residents will be asked: “Do you want to cut the rate of 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?”

Because it references alternative energy, some may be wondering if the York Energy Efficiency Committee has taken a stand on Question 2. The answer is “no”, because the committee hasn’t met to discuss endorsing or opposing the initiative. However, it’s always wise to look into the claims of both proponents and opponents of any ballot initiative.

An October 11 article in lays out many of the arguments on each side:

The conservative Maine Policy Heritage Center drafted the language of the excise tax initiative and Maine Leads gathered the necessary signatures to put the question on the ballot.

…”The auto excise tax is the most hated tax in the state of Maine,” according to Martin Sheehan, communications director for the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

One reason people hate the tax is because it is calculated on the sticker price of the vehicle, he said, rather than the actual selling price.

The excise tax initiative doesn’t change the use of sticker price as a base, but it does cut the amount residents pay for newer cars by half, he said.

Opponents of Question 2 are mainly concerned about the effect on local municipalities which depend on the revenue provided by the excise tax.

The excise tax goes directly to town governments, rather than to the state. Towns stand to lose 40 percent of excise tax revenue, according to the Maine Municipal Association, which opposes the initiative.

The excise tax generates $205 million in revenue, towns’ second biggest source after property taxes, according to the Maine Municipal Association.

While the money goes into a town’s general fund, the tax is often applied to road repair.

In York, the paving budget is $492,000, close to the amount the town would lose should Question 2 pass, according to Town Manager Rob Yandow. In 2010, York is budgeted to collect $2.6 million in excise tax revenue. It would lose half a million dollars that year under Question 2.

“If it passes, with the exception of contracts, virtually everything else has to be on the table,” said Yandow.

Opponents also cite the initiative’s lack of benefits for people who are less well off.

Opponents of the measure say 68 percent of vehicles registered in Maine are at least six years old. Sixty-eight percent of those registering their vehicles receive no benefit from the excise tax initiative, according to information released by the Maine Municipal Association.

Opponents also say a state sales tax exemption, and a three-year excise tax exemption for hybrid and alternative vehicles in the initiative, doesn’t make sense. For example, someone buying a Cadillac Escalade hybrid for $80,000 would get the benefit, but not the person buying a $17,000 Ford Focus, a vehicle that has less of a carbon footprint.

Portland Press Herald editorial writer Bill Nemitz puts it more colorfully:

So I could vote for the excise-tax cut next month, get no excise-tax cut whatsoever and, as an added bonus, end up with a higher property-tax bill. And this saves me money how?

…In other words, if Question 2 passes, my selectmen should simply suck it up and live with the $250,000 in lost excise-tax revenue – without cutting my municipal services and without raising my property tax. And how exactly might they do that?

Other state organizations who have come out against Question 2 include the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Maine Association of Nonprofits, the Maine Center for Economic Policy, and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Locally, the measure is opposed by the York Board of Selectmen, the York School Committee, and the York Weekly.

Whatever your point of view, please be sure to vote on Nov. 3 or vote by absentee ballot before then.

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