BANGOR, Maine — Maine voters on Tuesday rejected a proposal to create a universal home health care program that was pushed by progressives as a sweeping fix for problems in the industry, but fell apart amid opposition from business interests and elected officials.
Question 1 proposed a 3.8 percent surtax on income of more than $128,400 in adjusted gross income in order to a support the nation’s first universal home care program, which would have served people older than 65 and people with disabilities with no regard to income.
The surtax aimed to professionalize the home health care industry, which relies largely on low-wage workers in Maine, the country’s oldest state by median age. Through 2034, the state’s share of people 65 and older is expected to grow from 16 percent to 28 percent.
During the campaign, most acknowledged Maine’s need for more affordable home care options for seniors, but the tax scheme was the main sticking point in the referendum pushed by the progressive Maine People’s Alliance and allied groups.
It lost after being opposed by more than 60 percent of Maine voters on Tuesday. The Bangor Daily News and Decision Desk HQ projected the outcome at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday.
At 1 p.m. Wednesday, with roughly 87 percent of precincts reporting, 62.6 percent of votes cast opposed the measure.
The group said its aim was to only hit the income of individual earners who make above $128,400 a year — the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax — but the LePage administration issued an analysis saying the proposal was written in a way that would make it apply to married couples making that amount combined.
While it could have been fixed later by the Legislature, the tax issue largely framed debate about the referendum. The state’s estimate found that the law would generate $310 million per year and affect more than 58,000 families, while a liberal group that used proponents’ assumptions said it would generate $186 million and apply largely to the top 1 percent of earners.
Republicans and many Democrats disapproved of the size of the tax and how the program would be managed — by a private board of professional experts that wouldn’t be subject to government oversight. All three gubernatorial candidates opposed Question 1 alongside Gov. Paul LePage and his Democratic predecessor, John Baldacci.
Antonio Williams, 36, a cook in Bangor, said he voted against the referendum because it was “just worded really poorly” and he thought voters “really need more information.”
“I’d like to see it come back around as a better bill,” he said. “I’d happily vote for a better version of that bill.”
BDN writer Emily Burnham contributed to this report.