AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — The battles over contentious referendum questions on November's ballot are growing.
Question 2 would add a three-percent income tax surcharge to everyone earning over $200,000. The money would go to schools to for a variety of purposes, including teachers, but not including administration. Supporters say it would raise as much as $157 million per year.
The referendum would raise taxes on approximately 11,450 small businesses, especially in construction service and agriculture industries.
The conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) joined the Maine State Chamber Tuesday to oppose the referendum. The groups claim Question 2 would not treat all towns fairly. They say it would raise taxes on many small businesses that file through their owners. They argue it would drive some people and businesses out of Maine.
Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro said it will discourage others from coming here to work.
"Doctors are already saying they are not coming to Maine right now, turning down offers or postponing offers," he said. "Who in their right mind would come to a state that's going take an extra three percent off the top of their income?"
It comes as no surprise that supporters of the referendum say the Maine Heritage study is wrong. They dispute the numbers of towns that wouldn't get funding, and they say business would benefit from having better schools.
"You have doctors and dentists and others … when they're thinking of moving to Maine — if they have children or care about property values — one of the first questions they will ask is, how are the local schools in our community? 'Cause they too want top notch schools," said John Kosinski, a government relations representative for the Maine Education Association.
Kosinski, a member of Yes on 2 advocate group Stand Up for Students, argues that raising the tax on high wage earners is the fair way to fund schools.
"What Question 2 is trying to do is bring fairness to our tax code," he said.
Matt Gagnon of the MHPC argues that schools need to make changes, like cutting administration, to get more money.
"I think the state would be far better to decide to reallocate how it spends its money and would find there is a lot more money in the classroom," he said.
The latest polls show a majority of Mainers support the tax increase. The debate will be getting more intense in the final weeks.