GOP ‘proposal’ on education amounts to $220 million cut for schools

Posted: June 01, 2017 | Appropriations and Financial Affairs, Senator Jackson, Senator Libby

Jackson, Libby say Republican scheme ignores voters, raise property taxes

Sen. Troy Jackson, left, and Sen. Nate Libby.

AUGUSTA — Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday brushed off an alleged budget “offer” by Senate Republicans to cut $220 million from state aid to local schools.

Current law, approved by voters in November, collects roughly $320 million in new revenue dedicated to Maine’s public schools in the next biennium. For months, Republicans have pledged to repeal this sustainable funding law, but have refused to put forth a plan to make up the revenue necessary to fully fund the state’s share of the cost of public education.

According to an article posted Wednesday night in the Portland Press Herald, GOP Senate President Michael Thibodeau finally put forward a proposal for schools — one that cuts the voter-approved new funding for schools by roughly 69 percent.

“Earlier this week, Republicans floated a shift-and-shaft plan to burden property taxpayers with the cost of teacher retirements, a scheme that eliminates funding for the classroom and would raise property taxes around the state by roughly $80 million,” said Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson. “Now, they’re proposing to cut $220 million in total state spending on education. It’s nice that they’re finally talking seriously about how to fund our public schools, but these proposals are a joke and Democrats will not allow Republicans to defund our schools and jack up property taxes — especially when voters couldn’t have been more clear that what they demand is exactly the opposite.”

While a slow trickle of information about Republicans’ full budget proposal continues, GOP lawmakers on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee have yet to disclose their comprehensive plan for education. But what has been revealed so far paints a grim picture for Maine schools and property taxpayers:

  • The current, voter-approved education funding law would reduce the state’s current mandated property tax rate from the current level of 8.29 percent down to 7.2 percent next year. The Republicans’ education cuts and schemes ensures the mandated mil rate will rise.
  • The state is obligated to cover 55 percent of the cost of essential programs and services in public schools, and Republicans have proposed that — for the first time ever — the state include the state’s unfunded liability of existing teacher retirement debt in that calculation. This budget gimmick may make it appear the state is increasing education funding, but it diverts state funds from the classroom and forces local property taxpayers to pick up 45 percent of the cost of the state’s obligation. That will force a property tax increase of roughly $80 million statewide.

“Democrats have always said that if Republicans dislike the current education funding law and have a serious alternative, we’ll be more than willing to listen and negotiate,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Nate Libby. “But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, they’ve proposed cuts disguised as funding and budget gimmicks that take money out of the classroom. They’re avoiding the voters’ mandate and the simple fact is they still have no plan to sustainably and fully fund our schools. Meanwhile, our proposal funds our schools, lowers property taxes and doesn’t raise a single cent in new taxes. This budget could have been wrapped up weeks ago. There’s no reason for Republicans to bring us down to the wire.”

The Maine Legislature must enact a biennial budget, including overriding a potential gubernatorial veto, by midnight June 30 to avoid a government shutdown.