Who Would Really Benefit from Education Tax Initiative?

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This November, Maine voters will decide on an initiative to provide further public education funding through an additional surcharge of 3% on certain taxpayers beginning January 1, 2017. The official ballot summary can be found here.

Early this year, Ballotpedia.com identified the following referendum promoters: Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Education Association, Maine Parent Teacher Association, Maine State Employees Association, Maine Small Business Coalition, Maine People’s Resource Center and the Maine People’s Alliance (MPA). Objective observers (e.g., me) are beginning to wonder whether the MPA is a front group for the Maine Democratic Party, or if the Party is a front group for the MPA.

There’s no such confusion about the Maine Small Business Coalition and the Maine People’s Resource Center. They are both front-group puppets shaped, stuffed and strung up by the MPA. Everyone paying attention knows this, even the media, which chooses not to mention it. Some among our fellow citizens pretend not to know it, but let’s be courteous. It costs us nothing to pretend to believe them.

Six years ago, Eliot Cutler denounced the MEA as a special interest group indifferent to the needs of students and devoted to its own aggrandizement. Nothing has changed. We all know (democrats more than most) that the Maine AFL-CIO and the Maine State Employees Association are always, and entirely, committed to transfers of wealth from the private sector to the government sector, which so many of their members rely on for their livelihood.

Parent Teachers Associations typically operate as servants of the MEA. If I’m wrong about this, I invite correction. My address is appended; any reader who knows of an example where the PTA opposed the MEA on any issue, please send word.

So far so good. We see who likes the idea of money being sent their way. We also know from whence the money is to come. The “state” will take an estimated $110 million per year from greedy people who show up in Maine’s economy and take more than their “fair” share.

Now let’s see if we can “follow the money” more exactly. Many advocates tell us that the income tax surcharge will go to education. That’s metaphorical language. “Education” has no pocket, wallet or bank account. We all know this, and we all know that every cent spent goes to human beings, who do have these things. Most people agree that students are human beings. They all have pockets and some have bank accounts. But none of the loot from the referendum passage will ever reach those pockets and accounts.

Patricia Callahan, a Bangor Daily News (BDN) “non-partisan” commentator assures us that the money raised is “going directly to funding instruction.” This seems to imply that money will flow into the pockets of worthy classroom teachers. I advise a little caution here. The Lords of Education have a wide, wide latitude for defining “instruction.” Stand Up For Students in Maine (SUFSIM), yet another front group, explains that “funding from the surcharge [will] be used for direct classroom instruction, including teachers, school nurses and other critical public school personnel.”

The BDN’s Nick McCrea informs his readers that the money is going to meet the state’s obligation to cover 55% of Maine’s K-12 public education costs imposed by referendum a dozen years ago. Prof. Michael Hillard adds the taxpayers to the list of beneficiaries. This implants two unexpressed ideas: First, education costs, of whatever size, are inexorable and irreversible. Second, if the state doesn’t pay, property holders must pay; there’s no alternative known to Man or God.

The Maine Beacon, speaking for the Maine Democratic Party, avoids telling us who actually gets the money, just that it “will provide more resources for our schools…” And it to assures us that it will “reduce the burden on property taxpayers.”

So the referendum boosters can identify only one group as direct recipients of the cash value extracted from the greedy rich: property owners. We need a little more information before we can fully evaluate this claim. How much money extracted from the wicked rich by the income tax surcharge will come back to them as property tax relief? The assumption that if the state spends more, our communities will spend less needs closer examination.

I’m remembering a conversation I had with Senator Perry (D-Bangor) back in 2005. The senator was then serving as co-chair of the Taxation Committee. He told me that he saw little point in the state providing tax relief to the municipalities, “because they’ll just spend it.” I quoted him, with his permission, in my Waterville Sentinel column.

It’s always good to follow the money trail, but political issues are never entirely about money. Idealism, philosophy, principle, ideology, whatever the term preferred, always gets mixed in. Even when greed is the prevalent motive, there are always some dilutions.

Americans traditionally include education as part their solution to any social, economic or political problem. All agree that Maine needs a well-trained workforce if it is to have a future. All agree that education sets our children up for success. Citizens with utopian inclinations dream about producing better human beings. All this runs into an incorrigible faith in the vending machine theory of education: put in money, out comes education.

Variations of this pitch will fetch a lot of voters. Those who do the pitching also believe in the magical powers of education. But they have a concern that the voters they hope to convince don’t necessarily share. Twenty-first century liberal thinking is almost obsessively focused on expanding the power of government. Almost none of their policies, hopes and nostrums envisage this power diminishing. Almost all of them involve its increase.


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