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Maine Referendum Exemplifies Public’s Frustration with Foot-Dragging Legislatures

November 2, 2016

A post providing the written report from Portland ME’s NBC affiliate provides an insight into the perils of citizen’s writing referenda designed to address ending inequities that the legislatures create by dragging their feet. In the case of ME, the citizens passed a straightforward referendum in 2004 calling for the state to provide 55% of the costs of education. The legislature has failed to do so ever since. As a result, a group called “Citizens Who Support Maine’s Schools”  crafted a referendum question that seeks voter approval of a specific piece of legislation that essentially sis for taxpayers who earn more than $200,000 to have 3% of their earning beyond that figure to go into a special fund designed to assist schools who desperately need more state funding. Why? Here’s the answer from the FAQ’s page of the “Citizens Who Support Maine’s Schools” web page:

Through a 2004 ballot initiative voters asked the State to fund 55% of the total cost of education. To this day, that funding requirement has never been met. Instead, according to figures from the Department of Education, for the last six years funding for public schools has not kept up with the costs of running those schools.

According to the Maine Department of Education, in the 2015-16 school year:

  • The state paid only 47.5% of the total cost of K-12 public education
  • The cost of education increased by 2.6%
  • Funding did not keep up with that increase
  • The State fell $154 million short of reaching the 55% funding level.

Since 2008, the lack of funding at 55% equals a cumulative loss in state funding for public schools of $1.2 billion

A coalition of parents, teachers and other organizations are determined to change that. We are working together on a ballot initiative to better fund our public schools. We collected more than 95.000 signatures to put this simple question before the voters:

Should those making more than $200,000 pay a bit more in taxes in order to give our children the education they need and opportunities they deserve and reduce the property taxes for Maine homeowners?

We think the answer will be a resounding YES!

Unfortunately, because the legislation is imperfectly worded, the Maine School Management Association MSMA, the group representing administrators in the State, is opposed to it because they fear the new funds could arguably be used to supplant funds as opposed to supplement them. Predictably the State Chamber of Commerce and many conservative groups are opposed to the bill and they are using traditional anti-tax arguments that have been disproven in previous election. But here’s the bottom line on all of this, as the article and web-page linked above indicate: the will of the voters is to provide more funds for schools and the legislature and Governor have been unwilling to raise the money needed. It is incomprehensible to me that someone making over $200,000 per year would be unwilling to have a marginal increase in their taxes go to making schools better in their state and even more incomprehensible that those seeking relief from property taxes would vote against this…. but there is plenty of evidence that voters in Maine do not necessarily vote in their best interest as their decision to elect Mr. LePage governor on two occasions indicates. Here’s hoping they will enact this legislation through fiat and MSMA’s interpretation of this law is incorrect. If the YES voters prevail, their intentions couldn’t be clearer: the public wants equitable funding and they want the affluent to pay their fair share.

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