Citizen initiative launched to tax wealthy, invest in Maine schools

Citizen initiative launched to tax wealthy, invest in Maine schools

Stand Up for Students, a new campaign backed by parents, teachers and education and community organizations, has announced an effort to place a citizen-initiated referendum on the 2016 ballot to place a 3% income tax surcharge on incomes over $200,000 in order to provide an additional $110 million to Maine schools.

“When the State fails to adequately fund schools, local schools like ours are faced with the awful decision of which services to cut and how much to raise property taxes,” said Teresa Gillis, a parent of two children in the Brunswick public school system, who spoke at a press conference to launch the campaign at the Reiche Elementary School in Portland. “Towns are struggling to fill the gap and property taxpayers are paying the price. This referendum will provide more resources for our schools and reduce the burden on property taxpayers.”

The referendum is in part a follow-up on a 2003 referendum in which Mainers voted for the state to fund 55% of the cost of public education. State government has never fulfilled this commitment and, over the last few years, the state share of education funding has has decreased. Towns have had to make up the difference, often by raising property taxes or cutting services.

The new initiative proposes a clear funding mechanism for the educational investment. Mainers earning more than $200,000 (approximately the top 2% of state income earners) would pay a surcharge of $30 for every $1,000 they earn above $200,000. This surcharge would not affect any other aspect of the tax code.

The $110 million raised would be distributed throughout the state and would make a significant difference for local budgets. $2.4 million would go to Bangor schools, $1.4 million to Sanford, and $1.6 million to RSU 54 around Skowhegan, for example.

“We’re asking our top earners to pay a little bit more to help fund our most common and essential public good – the education of our children,” said Michael Hillard, Professor of Economics at the University of Southern Maine. “This initiative is good for students, good for schools, good for taxpayers, and good for Maine.”

The initiative creates an inherent and very public contrast with the initiative championed by Governor Paul LePage and the Maine Republican Party, which seeks to lower and then eliminate the income tax, a policy that would primarily benefit wealthier Mainers. The Maine GOP have said they also intend for their initiative to be placed on the 2016 ballot.

“Our schools have done a remarkable job with limited resources, but we as a state must do more to ensure every child has the opportunity to receive an education that sets them up for success in the future,” said Caitlin Leclair, a teacher at King Middle School in Portland. “It’s time for the state to keep its promise to our schools so that every child can get a great education at a great public school in Maine.”

Supporters must collect upwards of 80,000 signatures over the next few months to ensure the referendum appears on the November 2016 ballot. The timing of the launch ensures that signatures can be collected on election day of this year.

“Investing in our students is one of the best investments we can make in our state and our future,” said John Costin, owner of Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk. “Small business owners like me depend on a well-trained workforce for employees and customers. Ensuring a highly-educated workforce is critical to Maine’s future success.”

More information on the initiative can be found at standupforstudentsmaine.org.

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