As part of the state budget deal reached in June 2015, the Legislature agreed to limit the overall amount of itemized deductions Mainers could claim on their personal income tax returns. Another change phases out charitable deductions. Now some Republicans in Augusta are trying to undo those changes.

Legislative leaders crafted a budget plan that reduced income taxes overall and paid for it in part by making other tax changes that take effect this year. Augusta Rep. Matt Pouliot, a Republican, has sponsored a bill that would undo part of those changes at a cost estimated to be about $50 million.

“Many of us were taken by surprise at the changes that were made in the budget, and many of our constituents have no idea what has been done to them and will not know until they file their taxes in April of 2017 for tax year 2016,” he said.

Pouliot’s bill has the support of the Maine Association of Realtors, which argues that eliminating all itemized deductions, including the mortgage interest deduction, would discourage home ownership.

Also on board are private nonprofit schools, colleges and hospitals, and the Maine Association of Nonprofits, which estimates the changes could mean a loss of $20 million per year in charitable gifts.

“Elimination of all itemized deductions including charitable giving will have a most significant impact on our ability to raise private funds to help meet our community needs and the mission of our organization,” said Tom Warren of the Kennebec Valley YMCA, who testified for the bill on behalf of Ys across the state.

But Garrett Martin of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a liberal advocacy group based in Augusta, challenged the arguments raised by supporters of the bill. Martin told members of the Taxation Committee that the real tax break for charitable giving is through the federal income tax, not the state’s.

“The federal treatment of deductions already provides a large incentive to give and will always be more powerful than a state incentive because state income tax rates are lower,” he said.

And he said that overall, Mainers will benefit from a near doubling of the standard deduction, so most will get more of a reduction in their taxes than they would from the mortgage interest deduction.

Ben Chin of the Maine People’s Alliance, who also opposes the bill, said it would be a windfall tax break for Maine’s richest taxpayers.

“If this bill were to pass, we would be giving not one but two sets of tax decreases for the wealthiest of Mainers,” he said. “Half of this would go to the top 1 percent.”

Several committee members expressed similar concerns in their questions at the public hearing and said they need to be convinced that charitable giving, and home ownership, will suffer as a result of the tax change.

In the interest of disclosure, Ben Chin is married to Nicola Chin, who serves on Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s board of trustees.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public Broadcasting Network.