Commentary

Baldacci Crosses Party Lines to Oppose Question 2

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Mark your calendars – a Maine liberal opposes a Democratic ballot initiative. This only happens once in a blue moon, so it is always important to take note when they jump ship.

Maine’s former two-term Democratic governor John Baldacci broke ranks with his party last week on yet another referendum question that Maine voters will face in November.

Baldacci most recently crossed party lines last year when he opposed a ballot question that called for the expansion of Maine’s clean elections system, which unfortunately passed despite spirited resistance from Baldacci and the majority of his traditional political adversaries.

Baldacci joined WGAN morning radio hosts Matthew Gagnon and Ken Altshuler to discuss an array of political issues including Question 2, which would impose a three percent surtax on household incomes over $200,000 to increase funding for public schools in Maine.

The specific language of the law reads: “Do you want to add a 3% tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to create a state fund that would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education?”

Question 2 has received blanketing opposition from conservatives in Maine, as well as policy wonk and former education commissioner Jim Rier, who is considered one of our state’s “foremost experts on Maine’s public school finance laws,” as reported by the Bangor Daily News.

While acknowledging that more education funding is needed and that the state often fails to adequately fund its required 55 percent of “Essential Programs and Services” in all of Maine’s public schools, the former Democratic governor argued taxes in our state are too high and that business owners will look at neighboring states like New Hampshire as more equitable environments to invest their capital. The state is required to pay for 55 percent of Essential Programs and Services in Maine public schools due to passage of a 2004 ballot question.

Specifically, Baldacci cited the harmful effects this referendum would have on small businesses and family farms, or the backbone of Maine’s economy.

“I think more needs to be done for education funding and support. I think they have really not been treated well and I think that they have a lot of a case to make. But, I think the way they’re going about doing it is not helpful” Baldacci said.

“In a lot cases, taxes are too high, and people are concerned about that and the impact this is going to have on small businesses, family farms, which have their incomes flow through to these LLC’s and other partnership instruments. So I think that their case is strong, but the way they are going about doing it is not going to be helpful to the state.”

His criticisms of the referendum did not stop there. Baldacci reiterated what many opponents of Question 2 have clamored about since the beginning – because the new revenues generated will not flow through traditional channels, many schools and districts will not receive any financial support from this law.

“A third of the schools aren’t going to receive anything because it doesn’t flow through the traditional education funding formula, so the ones that need the help aren’t really gonna get the support,” Baldacci said.

It’s estimated that approximately 85 schools and districts, most of which reside in low income areas and are considered the neediest in the state, will not receive any funding from Question 2’s passage.

Proponents of Question 2 have stated this referendum will lead to educational equality regardless of zip code, however this cannot be true if the poorest and neediest districts receive no new funding. Additionally, the law is designed to increase teacher salaries rather than pay for new classroom materials, books or supplies, and the funds also can’t be used to enhance educational facilities.

While it is always notable when a former Democratic governor is out of step with their party, it is even more remarkable when their reasoning is because taxes are too high.

Needless to say, Baldacci likely lost a few friends in Augusta last week.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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