Question 1: You Made it Happen

from Maine Townsman, June 2004)
By Chris Lockwood, Executive Director, MMA

In summarizing the past two years, it’s difficult to know where to begin, but hopefully a simple heartfelt “thank you” is a good place to start. I want to express appreciation and gratitude to the hundreds of municipal officials and other individuals and organizations who contributed to the campaign for adoption of Question 1, “The School Finance and Tax Reform Act of 2003.” We particularly want to recognize the on-going support and participation of the Maine Education Association in this effort. Most importantly, we appreciate the thousands of Maine citizens across the State who supported Question 1A last November and Question 1 on June 8.

The approval of Question 1 is a major milestone on an historic journey. This is a journey that traces back many years, finding its origins in repeated efforts by the Maine Municipal Association to work with previous Legislatures and Governors to address longstanding tax policy and education funding issues. Although certain gains were made, the core problems remained and became more acute, particularly with an increasing shift onto the local property tax for funding of K-12 education costs.

In the summer of 2002, the MMA Executive Committee endorsed the unanimous recommendation of the 70-member MMA Legislative Policy Committee to develop a tax reform proposal to be advanced as a citizens’ initiative. An 18-member Tax Reform Steering Committee, specially appointed by MMA President Gary Brown, met throughout the summer. Using several proposals as working models, the Steering Committee ultimately developed “The School Finance and Tax Reform Act of 2003.” This proposal was unanimously endorsed by the Steering Committee, the MMA Executive Committee, the MMA Legislative Policy Committee, and by the general MMA membership at the October 2002 annual business meeting.

Highlights of the journey included the gathering of a record number of signatures (over 100,000) on the November 5, 2002 election day; a competing measure (Question 1B) put forth by the Legislature in August, 2003; a plurality vote (38%) for Question 1A in November, 2003; and adoption of Question 1 in the June 8, 2004 run-off election (55% yes). Throughout this journey, we experienced firsthand the incredible intensity and roller-coaster nature of a ballot measure campaign. For those of us who were most directly involved (and our families and co-workers), it is fair to characterize this as an all-consuming undertaking.

From the outset of this endeavor, members of the MMA Executive Committee have indicated their goal is to address these longstanding tax policy and education funding issues in a responsible manner. Unlike many other citizen initiatives, “The School Finance and Tax Reform Act of 2003” was drafted with the understanding and intent that the Legislature would need to develop implementing legislation. While a central focus was to require the State to honor its commitment to fund 55% of the costs of K-12 education, an important overall goal of the initiative was to provide a political directive to the Legislature to undertake revenue neutral tax reform and to establish a plan to reduce Maine’s state and local tax burden. Despite our best efforts, these latter components received little attention or visibility.

At key points throughout this journey, MMA and its coalition partners have expressed a willingness to participate in good faith discussions with other parties. Most notably, after the November, 2003 election, MMA and MEA participated in discussions initially with the Governor’s office, and then with a bi-partisan Legislative Tax Working Group, to develop a “1A-1B” compromise. This compromise was unanimously endorsed by the Legislative Working Group, but the Legislature adjourned in April, 2004 without enacting a tax reform compromise.

Pursuant to the Maine Constitution, Question 1 will take effect 45 days after the next Legislature convenes in regular session (January, 2005). At that point, it will be the responsibility of the newly-elected Legislature to move forward in implementing Question 1. MMA and its coalition partners stand ready to participate in this process.

On behalf of the MMA Executive Committee and staff, I want to thank municipal officials throughout the state for your support and efforts in this major undertaking. In closing, it is important for me to recognize and express particular appreciation to the lead spokespeople for the campaign: Dana Lee, Mechanic Falls town manager; Jennifer Wixson, former Troy Selectman; and Nick Mavodones, Portland City Councilor; and to the members of MMA’s internal tax reform team: Geoff Herman, Kate Dufour, Jeff Austin, Laura Veilleux, Mike Starn, Jeff Nevins, Theresa Chavarie and Chuck Jackson; and to the many other MMA staff members who supported the campaign efforts, assisted at critical points in the campaign, and picked up the added workload to ensure MMA continued to provide on-going service to our members. You have my deepest, heartfelt appreciation.