Joe’s Jouirnal

A little of this and that

Posted:  Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - 8:45am

As the latest edition of the Maine Legislature begins to find its way through the weeds, the legislators and lobbyists can hear the dreaded “T-Word” whispered in the hallways. Of course, the dreaded “T-word” is taxes.

The mere mention of “the T-word” sends a shudder through the statehouse, not to mention what it does to the folks back home, the families who will ultimately pay the bill.

The latest proposal seems to be some form of a revenue enhancement device known as a local option sales tax.

Offered by a Portland representative, and touted by the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald, it would allow communities to charge an additional 1 percent on sales of certain goods. This would be in addition to the 5.5 percent sales taxes already collected by our local merchants.

Here in Boothbay, our local towns have pretty lean budgets, and we pay most of the bills with property and auto excise taxes.

As our population ranks as one of the oldest towns in the oldest county in the oldest state in the union, it means the bulk of the money used to run our counties, villages, and schools comes from the pockets of our homeowners. Many of them are on fixed incomes.

Each year, we welcome our friends from away who visit our shores and stores and exercise their gold cards. May they keep coming in droves and kudos to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens who saw 112,000 visitors tour this year’s holiday light show.

While we dust off the community welcome mat to our visitors, we dig into our pockets to fix the roads they drive upon, provide the police officers and firefighters to protect them, and fund other amenities, like restrooms.

A recent letter to the editor in the Portland Press Herald mentioned the 12-year-old Brookings Institute report that urged our officials to get away from our reliance on property and sales taxes and shift some of the local costs to our tourists and visitors.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe discussing a new tax system is the green light for a slew of local pork barrel projects.

But in the near future, we are likely to face some huge bills. Currently, our Boothbay school officials are wrestling with an estimated $10 million in building maintenance as our towns face higher utility, insurance, wages, and other costs, not to mention the threat posed by climate change.

In any event, the costs will top seven figures plus. We won't be able to pay these bills with the proceeds of car washes and spaghetti suppers.

Boothbay Town Manager Dan Bryer is proud that he and his board of selectmen have kept a pretty tight lid on their spending. But, he admits there are bills on the horizon and “someone has to pay them.”

Lincoln County Commissioner Hamilton Meserve admits the proposal is very seductive, but as he thought about it for a moment, he said it would mean additional costs for residents, as well as for our visitors. For example, he says food would cost more at the grocery store, gas would cost more at the pump and so forth.

From a political standpoint, he wonders if it would gather enough votes to make it through the legislature at all. “Put me down as dubious,” he said.

While no one knows what form a local option sales tax might look like after the legislature, the lobbyists, stakeholders, (not to mention the crowd that says all taxes are mortal sins), chew it to pieces. As our elected officials gather in Augusta to bat around the grand ideas to help this or that pressing need, at least someone seems to be thinking about how we might pay for the present and future needs of our towns and schools.

There is nothing wrong with thinking about, and chewing over, new ideas, even if they happen to include the dreaded “T-word.”

A couple of leftovers from the holiday table.

Flying out to the midwest to spend Christmas with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, we spent a couple of hours at Boston’s Logan Airport where the people-watching was fascinating. In some ways, it seemed like we were in a 19th-century mental hospital as dozens of men and women were walking around talking to themselves. Of course, they were talking to someone via their smartphones.

FYI, the TSA gang on each end was courteous, efficient and kind.

Nothing, but nothing, warms your heart like watching small children rip open Christmas presents.

This year we welcomed a new great-granddaughter, a smiling, wide-eyed elf.

Someone (not me) slipped a “Whoopie Cushion” into her stocking. In an era of smartphones, this old-fashioned gag was the hit of the season delighting young and old alike.