Commentary

Education Referendum is Too Good to Be True

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As with the rest of life, if something in the political world sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Voters always need to be aware of that when they head to the ballot box, and especially so this November with the question of creating a new fund for education before them. It will be one of many referendum questions people are asked to weigh in on, with marijuana, minimum wage, bond issues and gun background checks also requiring action.

That’s why it’s important to start talking about what is truly included in the initiatives now, six months out from the vote.

While supporting education in the state is a noble idea, the measure that is on the ballot in November is simply not good policy. It proposes creating the Fund to Advance Public Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education by implementing a 3% surcharge (read: tax) on Maine households who earn more than $200,000 a year. They are asking that a portion of our population – those small businesses who create jobs, fill important roles such as doctors and support many community activities already – be taxed extra simply because they have been successful. And remember, these folks are already paying a higher tax rate because of their income level.

By implementing this new tax, Maine would be telling talented professionals and successful business people to stay out of our state. Over the last six years, we have seen a sea change in Maine’s attitude toward encouraging business and economic success in the state. We have also made a concerted effort to encourage an increase in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals and related jobs in the state.

As a member of the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee, I have been directly involved in that work, and know that we still have a long way to go. An extra 3% tax on these professionals’ hard work and success would do nothing but discourage them from earning a living in Maine. It would not only stop our progress dead in its tracks, but reverse it.

Let’s take a statistic about a profession everyone agrees we need – doctors. Rural Maine is desperate for primary care physicians. According to the Maine Department of Labor statistics, the professions that will be hardest hit are medical professions. Obstetricians, physicians, surgeons and general internists make over $200,000 a year, on average.

The national average is 90 primary care doctors per 100,000 people. According to 2010 census data, much of rural Maine is well below that. Why would more, young, doctors move to Maine if they are only going to be penalized for earning their salary – a large piece of which already goes to medical school loans, not to mention state and federal taxes.

It’s important to note the $200,000 threshold is on households. Let’s use the example of two dentists who are married, starting in practice and wanting to begin a family while paying off school loans. This is a heavy lift already, but they would get socked with an extra tax as a household under this referendum as well.

Maine simply can’t afford to discourage doctors and dentists to avoid our state. Our citizens’ physical and economic health will suffer as a result. A 3% tax on talented, committed, successful professionals is not how our state should be run. It is not the way to encourage economic growth, and in fact, it achieves the opposite of what this ballot measure intends. It tells students that being successful means you might just end up penalized by your home state.

About Andre Cushing

Senator Andre Cushing represents District 10 which includes the towns of Carmel, Corinna, Corinth, Dixmont, Etna, Exeter, Glenburn, Hampden, Hudson, Kenduskeag, Levant, Newburgh, Newport, Plymouth and Stetson.

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