John Baldacci opposes ballot bid to tax high earners more to hike school aid

Good morning from Augusta, where former Gov. John Baldacci bucked his Democratic Party again on a referendum question, saying he opposes Question 2 on the November ballot.

The question, which would tax income over $200,000 at 3 percent to increase K-12 public education funding, is backed by Stand Up for Students, a progressive coalition led by the Maine Education Association, the union that represents most Maine public school teachers.

In 2004, voters passed a referendum directing the state to pay for 55 percent of “Essential Programs and Services,” the state’s estimate for minimum school funding by district. But that hasn’t been met, and this year’s referendum aims to fix it.

But conservatives including Gov. Paul LePage and business groups have opposed the question, saying it would harm competitiveness by raising taxes.

That argument found favor with Baldacci, who said “taxes are too high” and that while proponents’ case for more education funding is strong, “the way they’re going about it is not going to be helpful to the state.”

“In a lot of cases, the businesses looking to expand or locate look at the differences between what Maine is doing and what New Hampshire is doing and I think it could be not helpful in that regard,” he said Wednesday on WGAN.

It’s not the first time that the fiscally conservative two-term governor has come out against a referendum largely backed by his party. He also opposed last year’s expansion of Maine’s taxpayer-funded election system, which passed at the ballot boxes anyway.

That news came as the dueling sides on the tax-education spending referendum are further entrenching themselves this week. 

Business groups will hold news conferences in Portland and Brewer on Thursday outlining their opposition to Question 2, which would tax income over $200,000 to increase K-12 education funding. Appearing will be Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, former LePage adminstration education chiefs Jim Rier and Stephen Bowen and Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro.

And Wednesday, Stand Up for Students announced more endorsements from progressive small businesses— Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine will be in Cape Elizabeth for a fundraiser on Thursday. Hillary Clinton’s campaign only confirmed a private Maine event, but three Democratic sources told me it’ll be at the Cape Elizabeth home of Bonnie Porta, a member of Clinton’s high-dollar national finance committee. It’s a private event, but what would you ask him if you could? Send questions, ideas or tips to
  • We’ll have another chance to hear from LePage (on talk radio). On Wednesday, WGAN morning show hosts Matthew Gagnon and Ken Altshuler said that the Republican governor will be making a regular Thursday appearance on their show starting Oct. 6. Talk radio has become a bigger part of LePage’s communication strategy as his relationship with journalists has deteriorated in 2016. Earlier this month, he told reporters he won’t talk to the media again, but he makes regular (and friendly) appearances with Ric Tyler and George Hale on WVOM and Ray Richardson on WLOB.
  • Proponents of expanded gun background checks enlisted a former Republican U.S. attorney for a new TV adPaula Silsby, who served during the Bush administration, has been vocal on this issue for years, flagging issues with criminals trafficking Maine guns in 2009. She’s in the second for Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, the group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. It’s squaring off against the National Rifle Association on Question 3 on Maine’s November ballot. — Michael Shepherd

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About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.