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March Madness at the State House: An Advocacy Update

by Jennifer Gray

It truly is March Madness.

Jenn Burns Gray, Director of Advocacy and Public Relations

Bills continue to be printed at the State House. The Maine Legislature is now up to 1,103 bills with many more coming. In addition to individual bills, there are a number of substantive policy changes proposed in the budget that are being parsed out by oversight committees.

MANP is keeping its eye on bills/budget items focused on:

Property taxes

There are a number of proposals that are directed at the property tax exemption for nonprofits. Some aim to change the exemption while others create service fees that aren’t necessarily targeted at services. One bill creates a mechanism for the state to accept voluntary payments in lieu of taxes in the unorganized territory. Another bill aims to limit the property tax exemption if any of the nonprofit’s property is rented. The major bills haven’t been printed yet and hearings haven’t been scheduled. The Maine Municipal Association is the primary advocate for weakening the property tax exemption for nonprofits.

  • LD 727 (Rep. Stetkis) An Act To Protect the Tax Base of Municipalities by Removing the Property Tax Exemption for Land Held for Conservation or Public Access Purposes (MANP opposes)
  • LR 1368 (Sen. Saviello) An Act To Authorize Municipalities To Impose Service Charges on Tax-exempt Property Owned by Certain Nonprofit Organizations (MANP opposes)
  • LR 1509 (Sen. Dill) An Act to Provide Payments in Lieu of Taxes in the Unorganized Territory (MANP supports)
  • LR 1666 (Rep. J. Kinney)  An Act Regarding the Exclusive Use of Tax Exempt Property (MANP opposes)
  • LD 1076 (Rep. Hanington) An Act To Replace Municipal Property Tax Revenue Lost Due to Land Acquisitions under the Land for Maine’s Future Fund (MANP opposes)

Expansion of the sales tax

Section E-10 of the budget (LD 390 pages 40-41) proposes changes to the sales tax including an expansion to cover recreation and amusement services. These services include tickets to theater productions, museums, and YMCA memberships. The expansion of the sales tax can increase administrative burdens as well as impact ticket sales and revenue.

Action:  Folks who have concerns with these proposed changes should contact the Taxation Committee.  The public hearing was held in February and the committee has already held a work session.  The impact to the nonprofit sector did not come up at the first work session.

Surplus property

There’s a proposal to expand the range of nonprofits that can buy surplus property from the state before it goes to auction from a narrow range of the sector to all nonprofits.

  • LD 648 (Rep. Grant)  An Act to Expand the Types of Nonprofit Organizations to Which Surplus Property May Be Sold by the State (MANP supports)

Action:  The public hearing is next Wednesday, March 22, at 9 am before the State and Local Government Committee.  If your organization would benefit from this expansion and/or you support the concept, please attend the hearing and testify in favor or contact the State and Local Government Committee to share your support.

Transparency

A bill (not yet printed) would increase the transparency in the distribution of federal block grant funds which are federal distributions of funds to the state which give the state discretion in how they are spent.

  • LR 1498 (Rep. Jorgensen)  An Act to Ensure Transparency in the Distribution of Federal Block Grant Funds (MANP supports)

At the Federal Level

There continue to be concerns with efforts to weaken and repeal the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment is part of our federal tax that prohibits nonprofits from endorsing candidates and contributing money to campaigns. We oppose these efforts as they would decrease the credibility of the nonprofit sector, which has historically been nonpartisan. Although it wasn’t clear initially whether this effort had momentum, there are multiple bills in Congress sponsored by important players so we do need to take it seriously.  Our partners at the national level have organized a campaign around it. We’ve joined a community sign-on letter.

Action:  For more information and to sign onto the letter, go to https://www.givevoice.org/.

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