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By Amanda Litvinov
A new analysis from the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities supports what so many Maine educators have been saying: Voting yes on Question 2 really will help students by making the state’s tax code more fair.
Michael Leachman, CBPP Director of State Financial Research, wrote:
Maine is struggling to make needed school investments because tax cuts enacted since 2011 cost the state nearly $300 million a year in lost revenue, most of which went to the top 20 percent of income earners. Meanwhile, the governor and lawmakers failed to meet a state requirement that voters enacted over a decade ago to cover at least 55 percent of the cost of K-12 education. Today, the state provides just 47 percent, leaving more to local governments.
And that cost shift to local governments is hardest on areas that don’t have strong property tax incomes. In other words, the state’s failure to live up to its funding obligation hurts kids living in low-income communities the hardest.
Schools all around the state have had to cut staff and services.
“As an elementary public school teacher in Belfast, I have seen the effects firsthand of the state’s failure to fund public schools to the promised rate of 55 percent,” wrote Beth French in a letter published in the Bangor Daily News.
“The severely underfunded system has led to a lack of access to basic classroom consumable supplies, fewer quality professional development opportunities for staff and severe cuts to necessary staff and programs for our schools,” said French.
Alan Yuodsnukis, who works in Maine’s School Administrative District #11, says lagging resources have had similar negative effects on students in his area.
“For eight of the last nine years, I have seen staff reductions at my schools. My own program has lost 25 percent of its staff, yet the number of students we serve has increased,” said Yuodsnukis, who works in a learning center that aims to boost student achievement. Educators who staff the center assist both students who are assigned to the center for class credit, and those who come for assistance with a single assignment.
“I now have to turn students away who need my services,” Yuodsnukis said. “It’s time to provide the funds to enable us to provide students with the basic services they require.”
Question 2, which would increase taxes on incomes over $200,000, would raise $159 million in the first year alone. The language of the ballot measure specifies that funding generated through Question 2 cannot be used on administrative costs, and can only be spent on things that directly benefit students, including pre-K programs, technical education and training, and school nurses and other critical public school personnel.
All of that can be accomplished just by making Maine’s tax system fairer.
“Even with the increase, which would affect only the top 2 percent of filers, the highest-income Mainers would still pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than middle-income households,” wrote CBPP’s Leachman. “But their share would be more comparable than it is today.”
“Big income tax cuts for the wealthy haven’t worked out very well for Maine’s schools,” Leachman concluded.
“But voters have a chance this fall to reverse course and put the state on a path to a better future.”