Gov. LePage’s tax cuts for the wealthy create a crisis for Maine towns

Gov. LePage’s tax cuts for the wealthy create a crisis for Maine towns

While state budget debates often spiral off into complex and abstract issues that are hard for an average citizen to digest, at the town and city level the impact of the budget debate in Augusta can come into stark relief.

As one of Auburn’s city councilors, Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to sit down in a joint budget meeting between the Council and the School Committee to discuss the upcoming school budget, which will ultimately have to be ratified by the Council and then approved by Auburn voters at a June referendum.

As has been the case in years past, Auburn’s municipal elected officials—like in hundreds of other towns and cities across the state— rolled up their sleeves to do the work to figure out how to deliver essential and excellent services from our school system, all while trying to shield property taxpayers from the shortfalls borne out of the state government’s continued refusal to contribute its fair share to the education of our children.

In this year’s case, not only does Governor LePage’s proposed budget delay the implementation of 2016’s Question 2, which would bring the state into compliance with its mandate to fund 55% of schools’ needs through a 3% surtax on income earned above $200,000 a year (while his allies in the Legislature try to kill it entirely), it also shifts additional costs to municipalities, including completely eliminating funding for school administrative staffs, which in Auburn alone amounts to over $800,000 pushed back to property taxpayers. If you add in the phasing out of the state’s share of Maine’s Public Employees Retirement System (in which Auburn is seeing an increased cost of over 30% this year), you are left with a set of conditions that will quickly cripple the school budget without ever seeing a dime go into new staff or services.

The city will either eventually be bled dry from the cost shift or see property taxpayers pick up the tab. Meanwhile, Governor LePage and his allies in the State House would see those funds go to the wealthiest in the state, with a proposed cut to the state income tax for high earners— the exact opposite of what voters demanded at the ballot box in November.

Resistance to the Governor’s proposed giveaways to the rich continues to build as constituents begin to understand the impact of these regressive policy proposals, but in the meantime, town and city officials across the state are left figuring out how to squeeze blood from stones while working and middle-class property taxpayers try to weather the storm. In any case, time is running out before a crisis of the Governor’s making wreaks havoc on towns, schools, and everyday citizens.

Photo: Gov. Paul LePage at a town hall in Auburn in 2015, via Andi Parkinson.

About author

Grady Burns
Grady Burns 43 posts

Grady Burns is an activist on issues involving young Mainers. He serves on the Auburn City Council and is president of the Maine Young Democrats.

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