Steven Biel: It’s been 12 years since Maine voted to require the state to cover 55 percent of the cost of public education, and in all that time Augusta has never once hit the mark. So now voters are taking charge again with Question 2, the Stand Up for Students initiative. Just a 3 percent surcharge on earnings over $200,000 to fix the shortfall once and for all. Can I count on your vote?
Lance Dutson: I’ll be a firm “No” on Question 2. There’s no doubt our education system needs a better funding structure, but Question 2 is the wrong solution. The teachers’ union put this referendum question together, and it’s such a terrible idea they failed to get the support of even traditional allies like the Maine Municipal Association.
Steven: What’s a terrible idea is cutting school funding as Gov. Paul LePage has. It’s like the old saying: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
Lance: I agree with that sentiment. But Question 2 is the wrong solution. First, it increases taxes on Maine households by $157 million, making Maine’s top rate the second highest in the nation.
Steven: And yet even under Question 2, the top 1 percent — people making more than $360,000 a year — will pay a lower percentage of their overall income in combined state and local taxes than people making $30,000 a year.
Lance: But Question 2 won’t put the money where it’s needed because the revenue is distributed totally unfairly. Towns like Cape Elizabeth will receive more money through Maine’s convoluted school funding formula and will get a big check, while more than 80 rural towns, like Greenville, across Maine will get nothing.
Steven: Question 2 ensures that every town gets their fair share based on the number of kids in the district and the value of their taxable property. Yes, Cape Elizabeth is wealthy, but it has a lot more kids to educate than Greenville does. By the way, I thought you were against class warfare.
Lance: It’s bad policy, not class warfare. This money doesn’t even go to infrastructure. It won’t help technology, school buildings, supplies — any of the things Maine’s schools are struggling to pay for.
Steven: Actually, the way things are now, teachers are paying for school supplies out of their own pocket.
Lance: And they shouldn’t have to, but instead the teachers union set this up so the $157 million goes strictly to teachers’ salaries.
Steven: It’s true the initiative requires that money be spent on learning in the classroom, and money for “salaries” generally means hiring more teachers to lower class sizes. Though if teachers get a salary bump, I’m all for that too. They certainly deserve it.
Lance: The way our schools get stronger is through economic development, not raising taxes. If we want better schools in places that aren’t just Cape Elizabeth or Falmouth, we need our economy to grow. And taxing job creators is not the way that happens.
Steven: A small increase on the top earnings of the wealthiest Mainers isn’t going to hurt the economy — but lousy schools and rising property taxes will.
Lance: Maybe you should ask your left-of-Castro Portland City Council to stop raising property taxes then.
Steven: There’s no magic money tree, Lance. We can’t adequately fund our schools AND cut taxes AND balance the budget at the same time. And if you won’t touch earnings over $200,000, then you have to hit the middle class.
Lance: Again we’re in agreement. But Question 2 is based completely on the idea of a magic money tree. You think you can shake down Maine households for another $157 million and have no adverse impact on the economy.
Steven: This is 3 percent on earnings over $200,000 a year in taxable income — after all the deductions and everything. That’s $300 for someone making a $210,000 a year.
Lance: I’d like to know who in the liberal establishment is in charge of the enemies list of income earners. Today, it’s two-income families making $200,000. When their money runs out, who’s next?
Steven: Fact-check: A two-income family earning $200,000 a year will see their taxes increase by exactly $0 under Question 2.
Lance: Bottom line, Question 2 is just another short-sighted effort to kill the shrinking number of golden geese that keep our state running. That’s lousy policy and a throwback to the dingdong economics that Maine voters have thankfully gotten in the habit of rejecting.