PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Supporters of Question 2 gathered in at the Reiche School in Portland Tuesday morning to explain why they believe the referendum question would benefit the state.
The question asks voters if they want to add a three-percent tax on Mainers who make more than $200,000 a year to create a state fund that would support public education.
Opponents say the question would unfairly tax small businesses, and drives away professionals the state is lacking, such as doctors and engineers. Supporters say it would provide much-needed relief to school districts that often face budget cuts.
The question says the funds go to "direct support for student learning," which includes teacher salaries.
"The only uses listed are salaries and personnel costs," said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.
Supporters say it goes to much more than that, including classroom size reduction, renovations and universal all-day preschool in certain districts.
Gov. Paul LePage came out against Question 2 in a Facebook video.
"It will just raise the income tax to 10.15 percent on successful Maine households," LePage said in the video. "It won’t put more money into classrooms. It won’t go to rural schools. It will go into the general fund. The Legislature can spend it on however they want."
Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling endorsed a "Yes" vote on Question 2 at Tuesday morning's news conference, adding it could reduce property taxes by about $200 for the average family household in Portland.
"You cannot inject $150 million into the local communities and not have property taxes go down," Mayor Strimling said.
Opponents said the state constitution doesn't allow for special funds unless they are specifically identified, meaning the money would go to the state's general fund, then to the local government to decide how to allocate the funds.
"There is absolutely no guarantee that this question in any way guarantees property tax relief," Connors said. "Call it what you will. Label it however you want to. It's going to go to the general fund, and the constitution gives the Legislature express authority to distribute those dollars based upon the needs and the priorities that they see."
Connors said the tax would also hurt small business owners.
"There's nothing fair about that," Connors said. "We're punishing our own."
"People want to invest money in education, but the problem is where do you get it?" Strimling said. "This referendum makes very clear that the people of this state are saying, 'Let's get it from the people who can afford it most, put it into the schools that need it most, and make sure that our property taxpayers are not overburdened.'"
The Maine Heritage Polic Center released a statement that claimed seven towns in Maine would actually lose funding due to the EPS formula, because it "fails to address the actual ability of the citizens to pay for education because it doesn't consider unemployment rates or the median household income of a community."