Governor’s plan seeks to replace Maine’s existing school funding formula.

AUGUSTA (AP) – With a special legislative session a week away, a key committee Thursday gave a strong vote of support to Gov. John Baldacci’s proposal to boost Maine’s share of local education costs.

The Taxation Committee voted 10-3 to endorse Baldacci’s proposal to counter a referendum initiative that would boost the state’s share of local education costs to 55 percent.

“I think it’s a good vote,” Baldacci said. “I think it’s a solid vote, probably a few more than I expected.”

Baldacci’s plan seeks to replace Maine’s existing school funding formula and limit increases in local education costs to 4.6 percent a year, while phasing in increases in the state school subsidy over a five-year span to 55 percent.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature will decide next Thursday whether to put the governor’s proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot as an alternative to an initiative backed by the Maine Municipal Association.

Municipal officials told the Taxation Committee before Thursday’s vote that Baldacci’s proposal does too little too slowly and deprives voters of a chance to vote the MMA plan up or down on its own merits.

“We just feel this is being hurried,” said Dana Lee, president of Citizens to Reduce Local Property Taxes Statewide. “There hasn’t been a public hearing on it. It’s being rushed.”

“We need property tax relief, and we need it now,” said Jennifer Wixson, a selectman in the town of Troy.

The administration contends that the MMA’s citizen initiative could cost too much and includes no guarantee of local property tax relief.

“What do we do if MMA (proposal) passes?” Baldacci said. “We cannot blow a hole in Maine’s economy.”

Taxation Committee members who opposed Baldacci’s proposal plan to advance their own measures on the House and Senate floors next week. Sen. Richard Nass, R-Acton, wants to require two-thirds legislative votes before tax rates can be raised, among other changes.

Two hours after the tax panel acted, the Appropriations Committee voted 8-5 to support a Democratic-backed bond package totaling $93.8 million. Republicans are offering an alternative package with a smaller bottom line, $88.2 million.

The Democrats’ plan includes $60.8 million for transportation projects, $25.5 for education and $7.5 million for environmental programs.

The GOP-backed version seeks to borrow $62.5 million for transportation, $17.5 million for education and $4.2 million for environmental projects, with an additional $4 million for helicopter medical airlift services.

In order to be sent to voters, bonds must be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature.

Highways and bridges made up the largest share of the transportation bonds on the table, and the rest would be divided among rail, port, harbor, transit, park-and-ride projects. Replacement of the Gov. Curtis ferry serving Vinalhaven is also included.

Environmental projects include wastewater and drinking water programs and hazardous waste cleanups, and the education bonds would generate money for the community college system, University of Maine System libraries, the state library and school renovation fund.

On the Net:

Baldacci’s tax relief proposal: 09&vArticle

Citizens to Reduce Local Property Taxes Statewide:

AP-ES-08-14-03 1906EDT

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