The voters of Maine sent a clear message to Augusta on Election Day when they passed Question 2: Increase taxes on the rich so we can finally fully fund our public schools. Despite the clear message from the voters, I am amazed by the parade of corporate lobbyists lining the hallways and hearing rooms in Augusta demanding legislators overturn the will of the people.
Four Republicans have submitted bills to outright repeal this law passed by the people. It’s about time legislators understand they work for the voters, not the other way around.
More than 383,000 Maine voters supported Question 2 in November. That’s more than who voted for Hillary Clinton or for Donald Trump. Gov. Paul LePage never got that many votes, either: He only secured about 218,000 votes in his first race in 2010 and only 294,519 when he was re-elected in 2014.
When Question 2 became law, it instituted a 3 percent surcharge on the wealthiest Mainers as a mechanism to get the state to fund 55 percent of the total cost of our public schools for the first time in more than a decade. By virtue of winning at the ballot box, it is now the law in Maine. So legislators suggesting we repeal Question 2 need to be honest about their intention: Repealing any portion of Question 2 is nothing more than another attempt to ignore the will of the voters and give yet another tax break to the rich.
Mainers didn’t approve Question 2 with fog in their eyes. They knew our schools are suffering, with programs being cut, teachers forced to buy basic school supplies out of their own pockets and much-needed renovations at many of our schools delayed again and again. They know property taxes have skyrocketed as local communities struggle to pick up the slack for the state’s failure to meet its obligation to our schools. And they know the state has seen fit to give not one but two huge income tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our state.
The new surcharge doesn’t affect anyone who earns less than $200,000 per year. That income puts a person in the top 2 percent of earners in the state. Asking the rich to pay their fair share not only allows us to fully fund education, but it will restore tax fairness to a system that squeezing the middle class to benefit the wealthy.
A handful of the largest corporations in Maine came to Augusta to say the sky will fall if we ask the wealthiest to pay their fair share. They cloaked their concerns as fears for their employees, but let’s get real: Those companies’ CEOs may make enough to be affected by the new surtax for education, but their employees are nowhere near that threshold.
I hear some of my Republican colleagues say they support fully funding our schools, as required by Maine law. They just don’t agree with raising taxes on the top 2 percent of Mainers to pay for it. But I’ve yet to hear any alternative funding plan that wouldn’t continue Augusta’s bad habit of pushing more and more costs onto working Mainers and property taxpayers.
All of us in the Legislature know that back home property taxes are jeopardizing the financial security of our constituents. Every one of us knows another tax cut for the rich will be paid for by the rest of us.
So the question for the Legislature is quite simple: Are we going to stand with students, teachers, public schools, property taxpayers and hard-working Mainers all over the state who are struggling to get by, or are we going to stand with the rich, to the detriment of our schools, kids and communities?
To me, it’s an easy choice. Our schools, property taxpayers and communities need our help. The wealthy don’t need another tax cut.
Troy Jackson is the Maine Senate minority leader. He lives in Allagash and represents the people of northern Aroostook County.