Thursday, February 20, 2014

Follow-up on “Government Help:” Statewide property taxes

This graphic takes on even more relevance after listening to yesterday’s hearing (at least as much as we could stand) and gathering some more info.


This hearing was clearly about rearranging the deck chairs, as the old saying goes, not about reducing property tax burdens.  It was about reallocating the tax burden, as it almost always is.  It is never, ever, ever about lowering spending, which is what tax burdens derive from. 

It’s almost bizarre to listen to proponents twist themselves in knots to avoid the ever present elephant and make sure that their vocabulary is completely devoid of any hint of the core problem.

Picking winners and losers was the focus, which is more and more what government is about.  The social welfare Non-Profit Industrial Complex was there in force, arguing that others should pay more of the overall tax burden so that their favored constituency could pay less.  Just think of it in the simplest of terms: income redistribution.

To be more fully informed on the subject of a state wide property tax, you’ll want to read this article in the Maine Wire that discusses the history in Maine, and the words of the person who fought to  have it repealed in the 70s.

“This bill is a phantom bill, it’s just a title and sentence. And yet we’re having a hearing on it,” said Mary Adams of Garland, the lone citizen who testified against the bill.

Adams is the chair of Maine’s center-right coalition and a longtime crusader for fiscally responsible government. She fought against the statewide property tax in the 1970s, leading a petition effort which resulted in the repeal of the tax on Dec. 5, 1977. She recalled the turmoil the tax caused in Maine cities and towns, and said reviving the long-defeated tax would be a terrible idea.

- See more at:

The article also references this document, which is the bill Sponsor’s testimony last April.  (

Johnson first introduced his bill to the Legislature’s Education Committee in April. At the time, his testimony emphasized the need to bring about an education funding model similar to that of Vermont.

“We must redesign the way Maine raises revenues necessary to fund the costs of providing a good education,” said Johnson.

Johnson’s reference to Vermont’s education funding model largely confirms Adams’ suspicion. Since 1997, Vermont has assumed sole responsibility for funding local education via a statewide tax on property.

Of real concern is that the bill heard yesterday as a ‘draft concept’ is a totally blank canvas and empty vessel, devoid of any detail that could be supported or opposed.  To make matters worse, Johnson, the sponsor, stated that once the bill is actually drafted by the Education Committee, it will likely no get a hearing, ‘because it’s already been heard.’

Remember ‘we’ll have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it?’  Looks like our friends in Augusta are taking their behavioral cues from Washington.  So much for integrity and transparency.

By the way, the Maine Constitution contains this language on Education:

Article VIII.
Part First.

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; and it shall further be their duty to encourage and suitably endow, from time to time, as the circumstances of the people may authorize, all academies, colleges and seminaries of learning within the State; provided, that no donation, grant or endowment shall at any time be made by the Legislature to any literary institution now established, or which may hereafter be established, unless, at the time of making such endowment, the Legislature of the State shall have the right to grant any further powers to alter, limit or restrain any of the powers vested in any such literary institution, as shall be judged necessary to promote the best interests thereof.

In other words, Brunswick should be paying for the cost of operating its government schools on its own.  The Legislature is obligated to require the town to do so.  But it clearly isn’t.  Not that Constitutions matter – at least if they seem inconvenient.  Think of them as intellectual curiosities; something to see in a museum, perhaps, but not to be taken seriously.


Just for fun, we can estimate how much property taxes would increase if the Constitution were complied with.  Brunswick received $10.3 million in GPA for the current school year.  Making that up in property taxes would amount to a 35% increase in your bill. 

Lordy lordy ala magordy!  As someone said at a budget hearing in Cape Brunswick a few years ago, if you don’t like the taxes, you should leave town.

What a moving sentiment.

But not to worry.  As this visual shows, we get free money from the state to make things more affordable.  You might call this GPA and revenue sharing in one easy lesson.


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