Commentary

Question 2 Will Only Benefit Maine’s Most Resourceful School Districts

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This year, Maine voters will face an array of ballot measures, replete with fine print that no one fully understands. Similar to the last presidential election cycle, a host of left-leaning, out-of-state plutocrats and affluent special interest groups have bullied their way onto the ballot here in Maine by spending exorbitant amounts of dough to further their legislative agendas.

Most of these questions only appear on the ballot so our state can be used as a trial balloon to create a precedent for the rest of the country. To these outside interests, we are only a lab rat and a stepping stone.  If their proposed laws earn passage, Maine will become just another notch on the bedpost.

While their time in our state is often short-lived, the groups that push these initiatives seek to change your way of life, permanently. With out-of-state money comes out-of-state advertising and marketing techniques, readily used to mislead and deceive voters. Additionally, the language that makes it into the question that voters see on the ballot is usually infested with informational lapses, which plays right into their ploy.

A telling example of this arrangement appears on the November ballot as Question 2, which 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?”

To the average politically-unengaged citizen or those with children, this could easily seem like a no-brainer. Who doesn’t want to help our schools? But, the reality of what would occur in our school systems if this legislation is enacted starkly negates the rhetoric proponents of Question 2 have used on the campaign trail.

To begin, the state of Maine will not spend the revenues generated by this tax evenly across the board, or even to those in need, meaning this law will not lead to “education equality in every zip code” like its proponent John Kosinksi with the MEA recently suggested.

Kosinksi argued that this legislation would generate new revenues to bring state funding closer to the 55 percent mark it is supposed to meet. He also claimed the bill would provide property tax relief.

The trick they are playing on you, however, is that if this legislation is enacted, the revenues generated will not benefit struggling school districts, communities in need or even those operating under a responsible budget. In fact, it will be quite the opposite.

Because the state fell short of 55 percent of education costs statewide does not mean that school districts didn’t receive proper funding. In many cases, Maine funds over 55 percent of a local school district’s budget. In other cases, the school budget far exceeds the Essential Programs and Services benchmark set by the state, and the state will never catch up to 55% of that total. Overspending often occurs in areas with wealthier residents or a wider tax base.

Rather than the state saving taxpayer dollars in areas that generate sufficient funding, or giving excess funds to poorer districts that are in desperate need of new classroom resources and updated facilities, an additional tax will be levied to provide the well-funded communities with even more money.

Here’s an example: In 2016, it’s estimated that Maine will pay $2,624,954 to Cape Elizabeth for its education expenses. If Maine were to pay for 55 percent of Cape Elizabeth’s educational costs in 2016, the municipality would receive $5,134,045 from the state, or a 49 percent increase in funding. The state doesn’t spend the full 55 percent in Cape Elizabeth because the entity has the resources to succeed on its own. One would be hard-pressed to find someone willing to make the argument that Cape Elizabeth needs more education funding over other districts in the state.

But, many other areas with wealth and higher population totals will receive sizeable increases under this plan as well. Hancock and Scarborough would receive increases of 60 and 59 percent, and South Portland and Portland would receive increases of 45 and 42 percent. Yarmouth would receive an increase of 34 percent. Augusta, Westbrook, Ellsworth, Brunswick, Bangor, Saco and Biddeford would all receive 15 percent or more funding than they already receive.

Meanwhile, a total of 83 districts or municipalities would receive absolutely nothing additional from the state under this legislation, comprising a wide variety of low-income, rural areas where it is argued that additional funding is needed most. That figure includes the towns and districts of:

  • Acton
  • Bar Harbor
  • Beddington
  • Blue Hill
  • Bowerbank
  • Bremen
  • Bristol
  • Brooklin
  • Brooksville
  • Caratunk
  • Carroll Plt.
  • Castine
  • Cooper
  • Coplin Plt.
  • Cranberry Isles
  • Crawford
  • Deblois
  • Dennistown Plt.
  • Eustis
  • Georgetown
  • Glenwood Plt.
  • Grand Lake Str Plt.
  • Greenville
  • Isle Au Haut
  • Islesboro
  • Kingsbury Plt.
  • Lake View Plt.
  • Lakeville
  • Lamoine
  • Lincoln Plt.
  • Lincolnville
  • Frenchboro
  • Machiasport
  • Meddybemps
  • Monhegan Plt.
  • Nashville Plt.
  • Nobleboro
  • Northfield
  • Northport
  • Orient
  • Otis
  • Penobscot
  • Pleasant Ridge Plt.
  • Portage Lake
  • Long Island
  • Roque Bluffs
  • Saint George
  • Seboeis Plt.
  • Sedgwick
  • Shirley
  • South Bristol
  • Southport
  • Southwest Harbor
  • Surry
  • The Forks Plt.
  • Tremont
  • Trenton
  • Upton
  • Wesley
  • West Bath
  • West Forks
  • Westmanland
  • Whiting
  • Willimantic
  • Winterville Plt.
  • York
  • Carrabassett Valley
  • Beaver Cove
  • Chebeague Island
  • RSU 07/MSAD 07
  • RSU 08/MSAD 08
  • MSAD 10
  • RSU 85/MSAD 19
  • RSU 28/MSAD 28
  • RSU 65/MSAD 65
  • MSAD 76
  • RSU 23
  • RSU 78
  • Boothbay-Boothbay Hbr CSD
  • Mt. Desert CSD
  • East Range CSD
  • Deer Isle-Stonington CSD
  • Wells-Ogunquit CSD

It is clear that this legislation will not provide educational equality or support those in need. Instead, thousands of students across the state will continue to go to schools in communities where everyone struggles to make ends meet while students in wealthy school districts like Cape Elizabeth or Yarmouth receive additional, unnecessary tax dollars.

Educational equality should be about bringing schools and districts to the same high standard, not picking winners and losers based on existing resources. If some of the neediest systems are receiving nothing from this initiative, it certainly cannot mean educational equality.

Not only does the law fail to deliver on its supposed main objectives, like many other questions on the November ballot, it receives most of its funding from out-of-state interest groups.

On June 6, the National Education Association (NEA), both the largest teachers and labor union in the country, made a one-time donation of $300,000 to Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools, the PAC that collected the required signatures to get Question 2 on the ballot. In April and May, the PAC received a total of $87,000 in eight separate payments from the Maine Education Association, our state-level affiliate of the NEA. According to Governor LePage, the NEA has reserved an additional $1.4 million in political ads to run on local television through the election

Opponents of Question 2 have clamored that this legislation was written by union bosses. Indeed, the MEA wrote the language, gathered the signatures and has their staff member running the campaign. Plus, by directing the fund to pay salaries, it ensures that the MEA can raise its dues on more teachers to keep more dollars flowing into the union coffers. When you follow the money, you tend to find that most things are not so coincidental.

On top of the concerns surrounding the law’s objective and its sources of funding, an additional tax on Maine’s wealthy presents serious concerns for our statewide tax base.

The personal income of Maine residents is taxed at 7.15 percent, putting Maine’s income tax rate among the highest in the country. This tax not only disincentivizes the generation of wealth, it results in tax creep, or an incremental growth in taxes as more tax options are created or grow over time, combining to increase the tax burden without providing any substantial advantages for our citizens.

Tax creep directly causes wealth to flee Maine, especially when legislation specifically targets their level of wealth. These residents are essential to our poor state’s tax base.

Question 2 is a ploy by out-of-state interest groups to further inflate the cost of education in America while broadening the economic influence of liberal union bosses in our public schools.

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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