|Counter proposals to the governor’s budget for K-12 education were put on the table at an Appropriations Committee work session Tuesday, with Democrats supporting $120 million in additional GPA next year and $200 million the following year. At least some Republicans support $94 million in the second year of the biennium, with next year still undetermined.
In contrast, Gov. LePage’s budget gives schools $10 million less next year, despite a $17 million increase in special education and a $7 million hike in the retirement costs school districts must pay for working teachers – both of which are determined at the state level.
What to do about Question 2 is a still a major sticking point among all parties.
Question 2 put a 3 percent tax on income greater than $200,000 and earmarked it to help the state meet its obligation to pay 55 percent of the cost of education. It passed at the ballot box in November by a narrow margin — 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent.
Democrats based their proposal to raise funding for public education over the biennium on projections the tax would raise $120 million this year and $200 million next.
Republicans have vowed not to let that tax remain, saying it would make it harder to attract businesses and higher-paid professionals to the state and penalize people who are here, including those who run their small businesses through their personal incomes taxes.
That divide is a major hurdle in getting bipartisan support for the biennial budget, with Republicans challenged to find replacement revenue if they want to repeal Question 2.
“If you have another proposal, I’m really eager to hear it”, said Appropriations Committee member, Sen. Cathleen Breen, D-Cumberland. “What we heard is they (voters) wanted the state to pick up more of what it costs to educate kids.”
Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, presented the Democratic plan on behalf of his caucus.
It increases state share of the cost of public education by $120 million in school year 2017-2018, effectively lowering the required local mill rate to an estimated 7.2. The current rate is 8.3. The proposal restores 75 percent of system administration funding, which was cut entirely in the governor’s budget, and increases funding for economically disadvantaged children by more than $27 million. It incorporates the governor’s proposal to no longer subtract Title I funding from a district’s allocation – a move which also sends more money to districts with higher poverty rates.
The Democrat’s proposal, which is still a work in progress, also would incorporate the governor’s plan to eliminate the declining enrollment adjustment, which currently redistributes about $18 million in General Purpose Aid to those districts experiencing enrollment declines.
Rep. Hubbell said he included that cut and only restored 75 percent for system administration so the money could be shifted over to pay for economically disadvantaged while keeping the mill rate low.
The Republican plan lacked such specificity.
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Kennebec, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in general terms about Republican support for 55 percent.
“Both parties want to fund 55 percent of the cost of education in Maine. Voters have told us they want us to do that,” he said. “It really comes down to how we define that.”
The biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats on what constitutes 55 percent is inclusion of the unfunded liability for teacher retirement and the cost of retiree health and life insurance. Together they total close to $173 million, with the unfunded liability making up the lion’s share.