Sunday, May 19, 2013

On ‘Johnny Protocols’ 55% Resolution

           

We just posted, via email, the message below to the Brunswick Town Council, which will be considering Councilor Richardson’s proposed Resolution at the regular meeting tomorrow night, May 20th.

No walls were damaged in the preparation of the letter, though some might think that the flat spot on our forehead has grown larger.

We expect the letter will have the same effect as our numerous prior pleadings, treatises, and petitions to town officials.  They are nothing if not open to public comment.  Which is why we keep trying.

And why we expect that our next haircut at Leo’s will add to our coverage, rather than subtract from it.  That’s why Leo pays us for coming in, instead of vice versa.

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Date: 20 May 2013

To: Brunswick Town Council

Subject: New Business Agenda Item 51, “Resolution Regarding Proposed State Budget Cuts Affecting Revenues to Towns,” sponsored by Councilor Richardson.

From: Pem Schaeffer

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The proposed resolution asserts that “the Governor’s unprecedented biennial budget……falls $200 million short of funding local schools at the 55% level passes (sic) in referendum.”

It would seem that by definition, any new proposed budget is ‘unprecedented.’

That aside, the oft-cited 55% figure derives from ballot initiatives in November 2003 and June 2004. In the November 2003 election, voters had the option to approve citizen-initiated legislation, or a competing measure proposed by the Legislature, or to reject both measures.

The first option received the most votes, but not a majority, and as the Maine Constitution requires, was put before the voters as a standalone measure on the June 2004 primary ballot. Known as Ballot Question 1, it was approved by roughly 55% to 45%.

Two useful and relevant resources can be found here:

http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Maine_Education_Funding_Carryover_Initiative,_Question_1_%28June_2004%29

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/2004/intco04j.htm

Quoting from the ballotpedia item,

“The initiated legislation provides that the State shall pay at least 55% of the total costs of public education for kindergarten through grade 12, and 100% of the costs of special education services that are mandated by federal or state law. The proposal does not specify how the State would fund those costs. Instead, it directs the Legislature's taxation committee to report out legislation by March 1, 2004, to generate the additional revenue necessary to achieve these funding levels.”

At the time of passage (June 2004), Councilor Richardson was in his third term in the Maine Legislature, serving as House Majority Leader, a position he rose to in December 2002. In the ensuing legislative term, he served as Speaker of the House (December 2004 – December 2006). During his years in the House, which his party controlled, control of the Maine Senate was also in the hands of his party, as was the Governor’s Office.

The Speaker of the House is arguably the most powerful position in Maine’s State Government, and when combined with a Senate Majority and the Office of Governor, the Speaker has virtually unlimited power, since he controls the legislative agenda.

Speaker Richardson, now Councilor Richardson, with such unprecedented and total power, did not implement or enforce the 55% cost share voters had approved. Yet he wants the current Governor, who is functioning in far more adverse economic conditions, to do what he and his governing monopoly did not.

One might logically ask why now, nine years later, Councilor Richardson has decided that the 55% figure is a timely issue.

Furthermore, Councilor Richardson, in sponsoring this resolution, avoids mention of the Maine Constitution, which reads as follows:

Article VIII.

Part First.

Education.

Section 1.  Legislature shall require towns to support public schools; duty of Legislature.  A general diffusion of the advantages of education being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people; to promote this important object, the Legislature are authorized, and it shall be their duty to require, the several towns to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools;

That same Constitution includes the following language regarding the oath of office:

Article IX.

General Provisions.

Section 1.  Oaths and subscriptions.  Every person elected or appointed to either of the places or offices provided in this Constitution, and every person elected, appointed, or commissioned to any judicial, executive, military or other office under this State, shall, before entering on the discharge of the duties of that place or office, take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation:  "I, do swear, that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of this State, so long as I shall continue a citizen thereof.  So help me God."

"I do swear, that I will faithfully discharge, to the best of my abilities, the duties incumbent on me as according to the Constitution and laws of the State.  So help me God."

Taken together, the Constitutional language renders requiring the State to pay 55% of local education costs unconstitutional, and elected officials who advocate for it in violation of their oath of office.

Moreover, Brunswick’s Town Charter reads as follows:

Section 1208. - Oath of office.clip_image002

Every officer of the town shall, before entering upon the duties of his office, take and subscribe to the following oath or affirmation, to be filed and kept in the office of the town clerk.

"I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution and will obey the laws of the United States and of the State of Maine; that I will, in all respects, observe the provisions of the Charter and ordinances of the Town of Brunswick, and will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of ____________."

Based on the foregoing Maine Constitution citations, and the oath of office as proscribed in the Brunswick Town Charter, consideration of this Resolution falls outside the bounds of your authority. Proceeding as though it is within your authority amounts to be a clear violation of your oath of office.

These realities will likely not prevent you from acting upon the resolution and approving it. At the very least, however, as you discuss it, you should expect Councilor Richardson to explain his failure to act upon the 55% funding level during better economic circumstances with a ruling monopoly, only to decide that he now strongly supports it several years later, in troubled fiscal circumstances.

His reply should be informative for all of us.

Respectfully,

Pem Schaeffer

Brunswick Resident and Taxpayer

           

1 comment:

  1. The law is not meant to be obeyed. It is only in place so that one may know who it is that is violating it.

    ReplyDelete