PORTLAND, Maine — A group of parents, teachers and business leaders, frustrated with the state’s continued failure to fund K-12 education to the point required by law, has launched a push to help the state meet that requirement by taxing the highest-income households.
The group, calling itself Stand Up for Students, announced the ballot initiative during a news conference Wednesday afternoon at Reiche Elementary School in Portland.
The ballot question would appear at the polls in November 2016. It would place a 3 percent surcharge on income taxes paid in Maine households that earn more than $200,000 per year. That surcharge would hit the top 2 percent of earners, and would generate about $110 million for the state, according to Stand Up for Students.
“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 with two children in the Brunswick school system. “Towns are struggling to fill the gap and property taxpayers are paying the price.”
A dozen years ago, Mainers approved a ballot measure requiring the state to include enough money in the budget to fund 55 percent of education costs for Maine schools. The state has never met the 55 percent required by law, and the costs of educating students continue to rise.
“The Legislature hasn’t found a way to do that yet, and this is a solution we found that we’re putting forward,” said Ginny Mott, president of the Maine Parent Teacher Association.
The increasing costs of education have prompted many school districts across the state to cut jobs and programs, or ask their residents to foot the bill through increased property taxes.
A referendum of this nature likely would lead to a “messy” political fight, considering the “poorly designed tax changes” implemented in the biennial budget earlier this year, according to Albert DiMillo, a retired corporate tax director and CPA with more than 30 years of tax experience.
He said Gov. Paul LePage would be unlikely to sign such a proposal into law. He said it might be easier for the Legislature to reverse the tax cut that recently was approved.
Before the question can appear on next year’s ballot, supporters must collect 62,000 signatures.
“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, an economics professor at the University of Southern Maine, in a release supporting the ballot question. “This initiative is good for taxpayers, and good for Maine.”
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