Governor John Baldacci and Maine State Senator Joe Perry. Photo by Ramona du Houx

August/September 2006

“I believe that last year the 121st Legislature laid the groundwork for LD 1. We flushed out details that enabled the governor’s tax proposal to move forward,” said Senator Joe Perry while talking about the overall work that led to comprehensive property tax reform, adding, “It was a great bipartisan effort, working on the committee that pulled together LD 1. It’s the start of tax reform for the state of Maine.”

Currently Senate chair of the Taxation Committee, Perry brings with him the experience of the last eight years as a representative of the House, a history that gives him a depth of understanding of how to improve Maine’s tax system, having served on the Taxation, Insurance and Financial Services committees.

As a former owner of two convenience stores in Bangor, he is well aware of the challenges that face small businesses in the state, as well as being informed about what his constituents are thinking. In fact, his businesses propelled him into politics. His customers would come in daily and talk over what needs improvement in Bangor and Augusta.

As Governor Baldacci listened to all the customers that came through his family’s restaurant while he worked there, Perry, in a similar light, absorbed what his customers informed him about. Finally Perry felt it was time to make a real difference in their lives, and he ran for office.

“I knew their problems; I knew what they needed, so I felt I could honestly represent them,” he stated. Perry likes working with, as he put it, “numbers – to get to the nuts and bolts of a challenge,” so chairing the Taxation Committee is a perfect fit. Perry is also a member of the Inland Fish and Wildlife Committee.

Perry wishes that more people understood the need for taxes to support programs they want to see continue. He believes that the more people comprehend where their tax dollars are being spent, the less complaint there would be about taxes.

“Most people don’t want to see cuts to needed services, but at the same time they want their taxes to decrease,” he paused, adding, “Taxes are a contribution that we all need to make to keep society functioning.”

Perry explained that when it is stated that Maine has one of the “highest tax burdens in the country,” the figures used to determine this “burden” are based on comparing Maine taxes to Maine incomes. Because Maine is not an affluent state, the tax rate is high relative to Maine incomes. One of the key ways to improve this dilemma, Perry believes, is to invest in people.

“Once you invest in people, you improve their chances for a better-paying job with benefits,” said Perry. Perry sited the example of what a dental hygienist would earn-approximately $25 to $35 per hour, after being trained-and compared those earnings to a minimum-wage employee who makes $6.35 an hour. The difference is obviously staggering. As he stated, “Continued investments in education and training will increase the chances of better-paying jobs with benefits for the people of Maine: investments in research and development, in infrastructure … the overall bond package. The more incomes go up, the more Maine’s tax burden will decrease. The bottom line is that investing in people, as the governor is doing, will help lower our overall tax burden.

“My goal as taxation chair is to move the agenda forward, building upon our progress. It’s a challenge to modernize the tax code, making it fairer while the economic climate is continuously changing. Maine’s economy will always be evolving; we need to progress the tax code with it, as we move forward into the 21st century,” concluded Perry with conviction in his voice.

This article was published in the Maine Democrat in March 2005. As of September 2006 according to two independent economists, LD 1 provided property tax relief in 2005. Property tax growth dropped from 5 percent to 1.7 percent. Maine residents received $65 million in property tax relief; businesses received $10 million.