The state’s leading business group has formed a political action committee to oppose a citizen initiative to increase local education funding with a new tax on households earning more than $200,000 a year.
Dana Connors, the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, says the organization supports strong school funding. And, he says, an educated workforce is key to luring and retaining businesses.
But Connors says Question 2, which adds a 3 percent tax on households earning over $200,000 a year, goes about it the wrong way.
“Our concern with this issue is how they’re going about collecting the money to satisfy the financial need. It really is done at the expense of the economy,” he says.
Connors echoed criticisms made by Gov. Paul LePage, who argues that the initiative will hurt family businesses while discouraging professionals such as doctors or engineers from locating, or staying, in Maine. He says imposing an additional tax on those earners runs counter to the state’s economic interests of attracting and retaining businesses that pay good wages.
“It’s not for us an issue of underestimating or not appreciating education. It’s really about how you go about financing that need. And putting on the backs of the economy doesn’t serve the purpose,” Connors says.
The new PAC is the second operated by the Chamber of Commerce. The business group is playing defense this year as it attempts to defeat two ballot measures.
Question 4 attempts to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, with cost of living increases thereafter, which the chamber has vigorously opposed.
The new PAC, dubbed No on Question 2, marks the official launch of the organization’s campaign against an initiative funded primarily by the Maine Education Association, the state teachers union, and its parent organization, the National Education Association.
The teachers groups say the initiative is designed to bolster public education and to fulfill the state’s failed promise to fund 55 percent of local education costs.
Connors says the chamber supports strong education funding, and the PAC has enlisted Jim Rier as its treasurer to reinforce the point. Rier is a longtime administrator for the Maine Department of Education, and is considered an expert with the state’s complex school funding formula. He also served as commissioner of DOE under LePage before leaving the post in 2014 for health reasons.
Disclosure: The Maine Education Association represents most of MPBN’s news staff.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public Broadcasting Network.