The people of Maine spoke loud and clear in November when they passed Question 2, the ballot initiative to fully fund Maine schools by increasing taxes on those people making more than $200,000 per year. For the majority of people, the question and answer were equally clear: yes, we need more funding from the state for public schools, and the highest earners, the top 2 percent of this state, should pay a little more to help better educate the state’s children.
This is an issue that gets right at the roots of inequality in this country. It takes a quality education to open the door to better opportunities in today’s economy. When it comes to ensuring equality in the classroom, it shouldn’t be all about a community’s ability to pay. Question 2 makes Maine’s tax code and the education system more fair.
But now, special interests have banded together to lobby the Legislature to overturn the will of the voters and deny children in Maine equal opportunities to receive a quality education and success later in life.
Multiple bills have been submitted to repeal the new education funding law, just three months after it passed. I oppose these bills because I respect the will of the voters and I intend to represent my city. In the area of Lewiston I represent, one in three people live in poverty and we have less high school graduates and college degree holders than the state average. In my House district, Question 2 passed easily, with more votes than I received, even though I won my race with 71 percent of the vote.
The voters I represent want more state funding for education, and they want the wealthy to pay their fair share. The state has ignored its responsibilities for too long, and the result is out-of-control property taxes, which make it harder and harder for everyday families to make ends meet.
Lewiston families want a better life for the next generation and know that a quality education is a key to giving it to them. Question 2 provides Lewiston with $3 million more in state funding for education annually. That equals both better schools and lower property taxes for the entire community.
Unlike other legislators, I trust that Maine voters weren’t confused when they approved the new law. Mainers can read a ballot question and they can see what’s going on around them. They saw that schools are underfunded by the state and that property taxpayers end up holding the state’s unpaid bill. They saw that teachers are underpaid, schools woefully understaffed and that children go to school in rundown buildings.
Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have started to say they support more school funding, but not by raising taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent to pay for it. But any other option, including sales taxes and property taxes, would result in pushing more costs onto the backs of middle-class families.
Another tax break for the rich will be paid for by all of the rest of us. Question 2 is about fully funding our children’s education, but it is also about restoring fairness to a tax code that has been steadily eroded to the benefit of the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
The Legislature has a decision to make this year. Stand with students, teachers and the middle class, or stand with the rich at the expense of the children and schools. In order to give the kids in my community a fighting chance at getting ahead in life, I will be standing up for students, just like the voters in my district did in November.
Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and is the House assistant majority leader.
Rep. Jared Golden