The Maine Municipal Association (MMA), a lobbying group of Maine local governments, has long been a destructive force in state politics. They collect "membership dues" – local taxpayer dollars – to fund big government advocacy campaigns. In short, the MMA has a track record of using taxpayer dollars to lobby for higher taxes and against government spending restraint.
The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC), instrumental in educating voters about the very ballot measures MMA has spent millions to oppose, filed suit yesterday against the municipal lobby through its Center for Constitutional Government. MHPC argues that as a governmental entity, the MMA has illegally contributed $2 million to support or oppose five ballot initiatives between 2003 and 2009:
According to long-standing law, MMA’s contributions to and participation in the PACs and campaigns would be ruled improper governmental electioneering that violates voters’ civil rights. Under Maine law, MMA is a legal “instrumentality” of Maine’s municipalities and enjoys federal and state tax exemptions as a governmental entity. As a public entity, MMA is also subject to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.
Some of the initiatives MMA has opposed in the past decade could have done wonders for its lagging economy. Among them:
- The 2006 and 2009 TABOR initiatives. TABOR, or the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, would have restricted the annual growth of state spending to the levels of inflation plus population growth. Between 1995 and 2009, state spending in Maine skyrocketed 109 percent. Had Maine had a TABOR law in place, the state would have amassed a $466 million rainy day fund and been able to cut taxes by $1.6 billion. The MMA spent money to kill these measures.
- The 2009 car tax initiative. This measure would have cut the state excise tax on automobiles in half. In the midst of a lagging economy, the car tax initiative would have provided needed tax relief and meaningful economic stimulus. Instead, the MMA saw it as a threat to their bottom line and spent taxpayer dollars to oppose.
It will take a number of constructive steps to foster a climate of economic growth in Maine again. The first step may be to identify and neutralize those who fund anti-taxpayer, big government advocacy campaigns. Even more appalling are those groups that illegally use taxpayer dollars to do so. The Maine Municipal Association is one of those organizations, and the Maine Heritage Policy Center's lawsuit may reap serious benefits for taxpayers moving forward.