AUGUSTA — Mainers may be asked to decide a 2016 referendum that would have the state pay more for public education.

The extra money would come from those whose incomes are $200,000 or more a year.

In 2004, Maine voters passed a referendum saying the state should pay 55 percent of public education costs.

“It’s been many years since the people spoke at the ballot box and expected the state to fund education,”  Ginny Mott, president of the Maine PTA, said. “That hasn’t happened. So OK, this solution has been proposed.”

There’s much inequity among Maine school districts, Mott said.

“I was in a classroom today,” she said. “Science textbooks are literally falling apart.”


One year, the state share for education was 53 percent, “now it’s about 47 percent,” said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association. That means property taxpayers are paying too much of the bill.

The 2004 referendum was a goal; the proposed 2016 referendum would be a mandate. To reach the 55 percent would require an additional $157 million a year from the state, Kilby-Chesley said. The proposed referendum would raise that $157 million through a higher tax of 3 percent on income more than $200,000 a year, or $30 per $1,000, Kilby-Chesley said.

The Maine Education Association and the Maine PTA are part of the “Stand Up for Students” coalition backing the referendum effort. Other groups include the Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Small Business Coalition and the Maine People’s Alliance.

“We’re all in this together,” she said.

The need for more money for education is great, Kilby-Chesley said. “I travel around the state, go in and out of classrooms. I see books clearly outdated.” School districts have cut field trips. Fewer adults are in classrooms to help students, she said.

Poorer districts do without because they can’t raise more from taxpayers, while richer districts can ask more from taxpayers so those students have more resources, Kilby-Chesley said.


To get on the 2016 ballot, the group needs 85,000 signatures, which they plan to get by Jan. 19. “We got 25,000 signatures” Nov. 3, Kilby-Chesley said. “We had 300 volunteers across the state collecting signatures. It was amazing.”

She collected signatures in Freeport and said those signing were supportive.

“Some people said, ‘Hand it to me. I’ll never make $200,000′” and won’t be impacted. Most were aware the education funding should be 55 percent but is not, she said. Some signing said their income was more than $200,000 a year and said “’I’m happy to pay my share,’” Kilby-Chesley said. “From the reaction of people I had this has a great chance of passing. It’s really putting back the taxes that have been cut from high-income Mainers in the last four and a half years.”

One state legislator who is a key player in the state budget said during recent years the state has spent more on education; education spending has not been cut, Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said. “It’s still hard to get to 55 percent with all the other needs,” she said.

“People are very frustrated that public schools seem to be underfunded,” Rotundo said. “They aren’t getting the resources. We all want the best possible education for our children and grandchildren. We appreciate the fact this is important to people.”

The public needs to understand, Rotundo said Tuesday, that tax cuts under Gov. Paul LePage’s administration mean the state has less ability to provide more for education.

Rotundo said she and others support the state paying 55 percent for public education. “The challenge has been how do you get there? There are so many demands as we look at the budget. Quite honestly, we’ve taken revenue out of the state with tax cuts for people at the top end that have gone through. That means there are fewer dollars to help public education and (reducing) property taxes.”

Another proposed 2016 referendum is a Republican-led effort to reform welfare and cut the income tax.

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