A proposal by the Democratic majority leader that would require cities and towns to use 90 percent of any increase in state funding for K-12 education to reduce local property taxes may never even come up for a vote this session.
While it was touted in Gov. John Baldacci’s State of the State address last week in response to criticism that the administration has not done enough to reduce taxes, the bill is flawed, according to its sponsor, Majority Leader Rep. Glenn Cummings of Portland.
The proposal, in part, contradicts the funding formula used to distribute state aid to local school districts. That formula, called Essential Programs and Services, outlines how much schools should be spending to assure all students get an adequate education.
It was adopted early last year as part of the legislation – known as LD1 – that gradually increases the state’s share of education costs to 55 percent by the 2008-2009 school year. The bill was passed with bipartisan support based on the promise that increased aid to education would lower property taxes, but the reality has been mixed.
Those school districts currently not spending enough on education under the model say they need every dollar they get from the state for their schools, Cummings said. Those that are just at the required level with the increased state aid also don’t want to give most of it up.
Those over the amount specified by the EPS model could be forced to pass along 90 percent of new state aid for taxpayer relief, Cummings said, but the bill is clearly more complicated than he originally thought.
Cummings said he took the idea of requiring the 90 percent return to taxpayers from some of the very municipalities now opposing his plan. They adopted the local ordinances when the tax cap proposed by Carol Palesky was still looming on the ballot. “I was just following through on their logic,” he said.
It also was a promise often repeated by Baldacci, but never written into legislation.
The Maine Municipal Association and the Maine Education Association both aired their concerns about the bill during a legislative work session last week. Cummings said he is open to amending the bill or waiting until the state fully funds its 55 percent share of education costs.
Geoff Herman of the Maine Municipal Association said the original school funding bill had a 90 percent provision in it, “but it got yanked out and replaced with EPS.”
“There are sound public policy reasons why you can’t have the 90 percent rule and EPS simultaneously,” he said. “It makes me wonder whether people get what they did.”