Every legislative session we consider thousands of bills, all in the hopes of making life better for Mainers. But no piece of legislation matters more to the health, security and well-being of every single one of us than passing a budget that addresses the needs of our state.
In this year’s effort to craft the biennial budget, one thing has remained constant: the bedrock of Republican lawmakers’ opposition to fully funding our state’s schools, as the voters required last November.
Republicans have banded together to demand that the Legislature repeal Question 2, which created a 3 percent surtax on annual income over $200,000 to fully fund public education. If Democrats won’t go along, Republicans seem ready to refuse to sign the budget. House Republicans want to repeal the surtax but direct no additional funding to schools, while Senate Republicans will only support an insulting third of the funding that Question 2 is expected to provide.
Neither of these proposals are adequate.
Democrats know that lawmakers in this building come from different backgrounds with diverse personal beliefs, and in their own way, work to represent their neighbors back home in their decision making.
And we know that this budget is too important, too vital to the safety, health and financial stability of over a million Maine people to retreat to our corner.
That’s why Democrats are at the negotiating table and remain open to compromise. We put forward an offer this week that still funds public education at 55 percent in 2019, reduces the 3 percent surtax to 1.75 percent on annual income over $300,000 and rejects destructive cuts contained in the budget proposal from the LePage administration.
We combat the loss in education funding from lowering the surtax by proposing to increase the lodging tax by 1 percent, equalizing taxes on tobacco products, and accepting the Republican proposal to raise the sales tax by a quarter of a percentage point.
We are committed to reaching a common-sense budget deal that avoids a disastrous shutdown of state government. And what have we received in return? Silence.
We recognize that Republicans oppose the education surtax. What we do not accept are Republicans refusing to come to the table to work at building a budget that funds our schools, provides middle class property tax relief and avoids shutting down state government.
It’s easy to tear someone else’s ideas apart. It’s much harder to step forward with your own.
In Maine, the top 2 percent make more than $200,000 per year. With Question 2, voters asked that these high earners contribute an extra 3 percent on their income over $200,000. For someone who made $250,000, they would pay $5,000 out of the $50,000 over $200,000. Prior to November, they would have paid $3,500. That is a modest increase would have a substantial impact on our education system and our economy for years to come.
Under our compromise proposal raising the income threshold to $300,000, even fewer families would be affected by this surtax.
The bottom line is this: instead of fully funding the essential classroom services that voters have twice demanded, Republicans are digging in their heels over tax breaks for the wealthy.
Democrats are at the table, ready to have a serious conversation. We must fund education, and we must get there in a sustainable and equitable way. Please encourage your representative and senator to join us.
Rep. Tori Kornfield, D-Bangor, is serving her third term in the Legislature and her second term as the House chair of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. She is a retired Bangor High School teacher.