This week, the Maine School Management Association (MSMA) – a nonprofit comprised of the Maine School Boards Association and the Maine School Superintendents Association – released a white paper on Question 2, the ballot measure which would impose a three percent surtax on high-income households in order to provide additional funding for public K-12 education.
Though the MSMA stopped short of recommending that the ballot initiative be defeated, it offered several reasons why the measure would be ineffective.
The report pointed out that a reliance on income taxes to fund basic services – especially education – makes us vulnerable to wide variations in revenue depending on the strength of the economy. That’s because the wealthiest Mainers derive much of their income from investments and capital gains which suffer in periods of recession. The report quoted Muskie School Professor Emeritus Charles Colgan, a former state economist: “[The income tax is] the wrong tax if you want to support education on a continuing, stable basis going into the future.”
The MSMA, echoing a concern expressed earlier this year by the Office of Fiscal and Program Review, also warned that “It also is possible that future Legislatures could reduce the amount of traditional state aid by the same amount raised through the income tax hike. Just when school districts would actually receive the money also is unclear.” A citizens’ initiative, while approved by popular vote, has no more legal authority than a statute passed by the Legislature.
Finally, the MSMA paper dismantles the myth that Question 2 would ensure that every Maine student has access to a quality education, regardless of zip code. “Based on spreadsheets produced by the Maine Education Association, it also is anticipated that the state’s 85 minimum receivers [those school districts that receive a 5% state contribution] would not receive any additional funding,” says the report, which also cites Former Education Commissioner Jim Rier, an expert on Maine’s school funding formula. “It will make equity worse. The ones that have been struggling will continue to struggle,” he says.
The full report is available here.