March 10, 2010

Union again calls for tax increase

BY MATTHEW STONE Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The union that represents 25,000 Maine school employees called on legislators again Tuesday to raise taxes to prevent $34 million in cuts proposed for state education funding.

click image to enlarge

Katherine Ayer, an art teacher in the Fayette and Manchester elementary schools, right, talks to Rep. Matthew Peterson, D-Rumford, at a Maine Educators Association event Tuesday night at the Augusta Civic Center.

Joe Phelan

At a legislative dinner reception at the Augusta Civic Center, Maine Education Association officials urged lawmakers to consider a temporary, 1-cent hike in the state sales tax or a 50-cent cigarette tax hike.

"Without increased revenue, we will be forced to make drastic cuts," Patti English, a Winthrop music teacher and president of the Winthrop Education Association, told more than 200 central and western Maine teachers and more than a dozen legislators. "During these tough times, we should not be cutting one of our most valuable resources: public education."

State education funds would slip to $930 million for the 2010-11 academic year under the supplemental budget legislators are working to finalize. That's down from the $964 million school districts are receiving this year in state subsidies.

"The cuts to funding of education will send the state backwards," said Larry Morrissette, a Maranacook Community High School music teacher and president of the Maranacook Education Association.

Maine Education Association leaders have repeatedly called on legislators to consider a temporary sales tax hike as the state deals with diminishing revenues. But the union officials' push for more tax revenue is in direct opposition to Gov. John Baldacci's pledge to balance the budget without raising taxes.

"Arguing for tax increases is never easy," said Christopher Galgay, the union's president, "but neither is laying off a teacher."

Legislators at Tuesday's reception were doubtful that the union-requested tax hike would pass legislative muster.

"I think we need to reserve these options for the next session," said Sen. Lisa Marrache, D-Waterville.

That's when legislators will likely be dealing with another difficult budget, Marrache said. And state education coffers will no longer have the benefit of the $59 million in federal economic stimulus funds that are propping up 2010-11 school budgets.

Rep. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, said raising taxes specifically to benefit public education is a difficult proposition.

"If you increase a tax, everybody's going to want a piece of it," he said.

Matthew Stone -- 623-3811, ext. 435

mstone@centralmaine.com

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