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Bob Stone

On Choosing Between the Tax Reform Measures
By Bob Stone
Sep 11, 2003 - 12:35:00 PM

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In November, Maine voters will be asked to select from three options relative to so-called “tax reform” measures. The wording of the questions on the ballot does little in the way of informing the voters as to just what they are actually voting for. Let us look at the three options and examine their impacts on Maine.

The first measure the voters will read was placed on the ballot via “citizen’s initiated” action. Actually, the measure was conceived and placed on the ballot by the Maine Municipal Association, an organization that represents the interests of the bureaucrats employed by Maine’s many municipal governments. Last November, they fanned out across Maine’s polling places and collected many signatures in the guise of “we’ll lower your property tax”.

Here is how the question will read on the ballot: “Do you want the State to pay 55% of the cost of public education, which includes all special education costs, for the purpose of shifting costs from property tax to state resources?

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? The “State” will pick up 55% of education costs! Costs will be “shifted” from the property tax to the mysterious “state resources”.

But wait a minute.  Let’s think about this.

The “State” now pays about 42% of the cost of K-12 education in Maine. The MMA measure mandates that the “State” (you and I) will have to come up with about a quarter of a billion dollars next year to pick up its new fair share. In fact, the “State” will have to pick up a cool $1.3 billion dollars over the next five fiscal years by my estimates.

Even the most casual readers surely know that Maine state government doesn’t have a quarter of billion dollars stuffed under the mattress. The only way it can meet the 55% requirement will be to raise the tax rates or come up with new taxes. And those taxes are going to come right out of our pockets. You see, we are the “state resources” mentioned on the ballot.

And here is the rub. Nowhere in the MMA proposal do any guarantees appear that mandate that the cities and towns lower property taxes. We’ll pay more to the “State”, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the property taxes to come down.

If the MMA members, the very people that we pay to run our towns, were serious about lowering our property taxes, they would have said that there would be a mandated dollar for dollar reduction in property taxes for every new dollar the towns received from the “State”. They are not going to do this, of course, and the wads of cash they will start receiving from the state will be looked at as a “windfall” that will rival Christmas.

The MMA proposal, Option A, is nothing but a ruse to soak Mainer’s for more taxes to feed the eternally hungry appetites of Maine’s hundreds of school boards. Why do you suppose the Maine Education Association, the teacher’s union, is pouring $325,000 into ads in an attempt to “snow us” into voting for this largesse?

Even Governor John Baldacci, who was one of the biggest spenders in Washington, understands they devastating effect that the MMA measure will have on Maine’s taxpayers. The governor was so concerned that he dragged the legislature back into special session to pass a “competing measure” to offer to the voters in the name of “tax relief”.

See if you can understand what the Governor is asking us to say “Yes” to: “Do you want to lower property taxes and avoid the need for a significant increase in state taxes by phasing in a 55% state contribution to the cost of public education? This is Option B that will face the voters this November.

Again, there is no guarantee that any municipality will lower property taxes if the Governor’s Option B passes. Additionally, I’m estimating that Option B will cost the “State” about $450 million over the next five years.  Maybe the Governor knows where the new money is coming from, but I think it will come out of the collective pockets of we Mainer’s. $450 million is indeed significant in my mind.

Bear in mind that Maine now budgets just short of $2 billion dollars annually to educate an ever-shrinking pool of school children.  That’s about $10,000 a child. It would seem to me that we spend plenty on education as it is and it about time that Maine’s professional educators figure out a better way to divvy up the $2 billion dollars before coming to the well to get even more cash out of the taxpayers.

Maine’s highest in the nation taxes are already snuffing out the economy of the State of Maine. I am voting for the third option on the November ballot and that is Option C. That option is real easy to understand. It says “None of the Above”.


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