Interview with Chris Cinquemani (10/8/09)

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October 6, 2009

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Chris Cinquemani is the More Green Now campaign chairman and the organizer of the Maine Auto Excise Tax Repeal, Question 2. Question 2 is scheduled to appear on the November 3, 2009 ballot.

1. Why should Question 2 be approved by Maine voters?

The auto excise tax in Maine is a particularly burdensome, challenging, tax. Especially today, in these challenging times when so many families are trying to make ends meet. We decided to go after the excise tax, to try and reduce that burden because Maine’s excise tax is the 7th highest excise tax in the nation and 22 other states have no excise tax at all. So here we have another example of Maine leading the pack when it comes to a tax burden. We felt that by reducing this particularly burdensome tax - that’s even more of a challenge and a hurdle for our low and fixed income people who are already struggling to put food on the table and retire in dignity - we felt that we could reduce that tax and add financial security to these people. Put more money into those pockets and actually also look forward to the boost to the auto industry here in Maine, as well.

3. One of the arguments among critics of Question 2 is that the provision of promoting fuel efficiency is "green wash." What do you say to this?

We wrote the fuel efficiency provisions, environmental provisions, into this legislation because Maine has a long, proud tradition of respect and promoting conservation. We are looked to, by the nation, as an authority on conservation issues and we felt that by eliminating the sales tax and the first 3 years of the excise tax, purchasing one of these hybrid and fuel efficient vehicles, we are promoting greater environmental stewardship in Mainers' daily lives. These clean cars, they reduce carbon emissions by about 90% and with gas prices as they are right now they can save owners over $600 a year in fuel costs. So we felt that the government philosophy pf conservation hasn’t been working and that’s a philosophy of these penalties and taxes. And we felt, as I said, that by writing these provisions into the legislation we can put one of these green cars within reach for more and more Mainers and promote that greater fuel efficiency and conservation again in Mainers’ daily lives.

4. Critics of Question 2 argue that it will will draw away too much money from local road and transportation projects which will in turn hurt towns and residents during the state and nation's current economic downturn. What's your response to this?

I think it’s important to remember that just a few years ago a lot of the opponents to Question 2, the Maine Municipal Association and town politicians across the state, they put forward a citizen initiative that would require the state to fund 55% of local education costs. And the reason they put that forward was because they promised to use that extra state aid to reduce our property tax burden. Instead what we found between 2004 and 2008, after the legislature increased state aid to municipalities by hundreds of millions of dollars, we actually saw local spending costs increase by again hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. That money was not used to produce property tax relief. In fact, during that same period of time, property taxes actually increased. So, the record of opponents, they don’t have credibility in this debate. They have made promises to create property tax relief and those promises have not been kept. And I think the important question to ask here, is not how can we allow local government to continue spending our money at the rate that they’ve been doing, I think the question we need to be asking is how can government reform and identify efficiencies so that we can create this local tax relief that Maine families need so much.

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