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Apr. 14—Maine lawmakers are weighing a bill that would eliminate motor vehicle excise taxes for veterans with service-related injuries who are rated 100% disabled by the federal Veterans Administration.
It's an extra charge that some veterans have a tough time paying, said state Rep. Heidi Brooks, a four-term Lewiston Democrat who proposed the change.
State law already waives the excise tax for veterans who are blind or who have lost the use of one or both legs.
The Legislature's Taxation Committee, which heard testimony on the measure this week, hasn't taken action on the bill. Its fiscal impact is not yet known.
Patrick Eisenhart, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander who lives in Lewiston, told the panel the cost to taxpayers would be "relatively small" and likely to diminish in the years ahead as the number of veterans dwindles. Half of the state's veterans are at least 65 years old, census records show.
Eisenhart said that of the nearly 110,000 veterans in Maine, less than 7% of them would qualify for the exemption.
Alvah Donnell, a veteran from Belgrade who has a 100% disability rating, said a majority of disabled veterans "are on a fixed income and paying these taxes are a hardship."
The Maine Municipal Association said cities and towns rely on property and motor vehicle excise taxes so they oppose a proposal that erode either revenue source.
But the group took no position on Brooks' bill, telling committee members that if they want to pass the proposal they should "implement the benefit in the form of a state-funded program that provides reimbursement" to localities for lost income.
Brooks said that since many veterans need to travel for medical treatment, they need to have a vehicle.
"We know that lack of motor vehicle transportation in Maine is difficult," the legislator said. "We don't have the public transportation systems like larger communities in other states. Having transportation to medical services, grocery stores and many other resources is vital."
"Our veterans have sacrificed for our safety and the freedoms we all benefit from," Brooks said, and they could use the help the bill would provide.