During the most recent election, Maine people made it very clear that tax reform is needed badly. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle have acknowledged this cry for change. Given that none of the three tax reform questions passed at the polls, Maine's constitution requires that the measure getting the most votes, in this case Question 1A (the Maine Municipal Associations proposal), be sent back out to the people for another vote. This has to take place no sooner than 60 days after the election and no later than the next statewide election. It seems logical to me that this take place during the June 2004 primary.
Question 1A requires the state to pay 55% of all K-12 statewide education costs, but a closer look reveals its flaws. Most of the school districts in our area, Piscataquis, Somerset, and Penobscot Counties, already get far more than 55%. For example, SAD 4 in Guilford gets 59% of its funding from the state, SAD 46 (Dexter) gets 72%, SAD 41 (Milo) gets 73%, and SAD 68 (Dover) gets 64%. The only benefit to these districts will be special education costs, but these districts may actually lose money. Those that don't get 55% most likely won't get an increase in state aid because the value of the property in their towns don't allow for it. Remember, this is 55% of statewide costs not 55% of local costs. Some will still get more than 55% and some will still get less than 55%. Taxes on a statewide level will have to be increased if cutting spending does not fund this transition to 55%. The most popular idea is to broaden the sales tax to include most of the current exemptions, such as hair cuts, lawyer's fees, heating fuel, tickets for amusements, and so on. This will bring in about $300 million a year. It will also make life a little more difficult for people in those businesses. It will also put Maine into a much worse position in order to attract new opportunity for its people.
We need lower taxes. By any standard Maine is recognized as a heavily taxed state. The 2000 U.S. Census ranked Maine as the highest taxed state in America. People in Maine pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes to state and local governments than anywhere else in the country.
Maine's high taxes make it very hard to attract the businesses we need to provide jobs to stop the drain of our young people who have literally left for greener pastures. The Legislature has responded to this crisis in typical fashion - it has set up a committee to study the problem and come up with solutions. To me the problem boils down to the fact there simply isn't any opportunity for our youth in Maine, so they go to neighboring states for work. We have an excellent education system here in Maine, but too often we educate the youth and they leave. We need them to stay here in Maine and help shape our future.
It seems to me that the only correct answer is to reduce spending. Maine's budget increased from $2.7 billion to $5.3 billion during the King Administration. Funding for local education went up far less, about $450 million to $730 million during the same time. At the local level, education spending went up from $500 million to nearly a billion during the same time period. Clearly, education has not been a priority of the state government. However, the people have made it clear that this has to change.
Paul Davis is the Maine Senate Republican Leader.