Rep. Stearns on budget impasse
To the Editor;
As everyone knows, the legislature is embroiled in an awful battle in an attempt to come up with a state budget. As a representative to the citizens of House District #119 I would like to share my perspective and some of my thoughts on the predicament that we find ourselves in.
First, I can assure you, that there are many, many legislators, myself included, that understand the dire ramifications of a shutdown of state government. With that said, it is no secret that the fundamental point that is keeping us from voting a budget out is the amount of funding for K-12 education.
I have long been an advocate for adequate education funding, and perhaps more importantly, an appropriate distribution of those state dollars to support students in areas that are limited in resources.
I believe that the citizens’ initiative (question #2) to add a 3 percent surcharge to those paying income tax over a certain amount is extremely harmful legislation, and a dreadful way to set any tax policy. With that said, I understand that the referendum was put forward in response to several years of state education funding failing to recognize the costs, even with reduced enrollments, of providing that education; thus, passing the burden on to local property owners.
Some communities, with property tax mill rates like 4-5 percent, easily absorb these increases and local school budgets continue to increase with local support. The state sends millions and millions of dollars in General Purpose Aid to these areas every year. Other areas of the state have been devastated by this shift, and mill rates are skyrocketing, school budgets are being voted down and property being foreclosed on. The lack of the Maine Legislature and others in key leadership positions to have the political will to reduce state aid to those with great resources and re-distribute those dollars to those that need it most is the primary reason that we are in the fix that we find ourselves.
The reality is that many decisions regarding funding and policy in all areas of government, including taxation, social services and education, will be made in a very, very short period of time, by a relatively small number of people. Legislators, myself included, will be asked to vote on an 800-page budget that we will have little time to review. Any complex document acted upon in this manner will contain items that I do not like one bit; along with every one of my legislative colleagues.
While I detest the completely avoidable situation that we are in, it is reality. I only hope that we can find a budget that will find favor of enough legislators on both sides of the aisle, as well as the Governor, to keep this great state operational, and the final budget document will do no harm to our most vulnerable populations.
Rep. Paul Stearns