School officials take joint stand against excise, TABOR questions
CAPE ELIZABETH — With less than one week before the Nov. 3 election, the leaders of the Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Yarmouth and Cumberland-North Yarmouth school boards have joined forces to urge the public to vote against Question 2 and Question 4 on the statewide referendum ballot.
The board representatives wrote a joint letter to explain how the two ballot questions would affect their municipal and state funding for schools.
Trish Brigham, chairwoman of the Cape Elizabeth School Board, said both the Town Council and School Board signed resolutions opposing both questions. She said she thought it would be a good idea to join with boards in similar communities that felt the same way about the referendums.
"In these tight times, and in the spirit of collaboration, it felt natural to contact the other communities," she said. "Our intent is to make our position educational for the communities so they know what will happen if these referenda are passed."
Question 2 would cut motor vehicle excise taxes from current rates by 50 percent the first year and by higher percentages the next three years. It would exempt hybrid automobiles or those that get at least 40 miles per gallon from both the sales tax and the first three years of excise tax.
If the question passes, according to town officials, Cape Elizabeth would lose nearly $758,000 in revenue; in Cumberland the loss would be $530,000; in Yarmouth revenue lost would be at least $560,000; and in Falmouth, $895,000.
Falmouth School Board Chairwoman Beth Franklin said her board and the Town Council also passed resolutions opposing the two ballot questions.
"These measures will absolutely hurt our school systems if they pass," Franklin said. "Any revenue reduced to the municipality will negatively affect the school funding."
Franklin said Falmouth spends more than 90 percent of excise tax revenue on road maintenance and infrastructure. She said if that money is reduced, it will have to be supplied from other sources.
"This referendum will hurt towns, their schools and eventually the quality of education," she said.
Yarmouth Chairman David Ray said his School Board is solidly against the two proposals, but did not approve a resolution against them. The Town Council did.
Ray said the excise tax referendum is a terrible idea and will only put more pressure on property taxes.
"There is no way for municipalities to raise that kind of money locally," he said. "It will hurt all residents and the schools."
Question 4, the second so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, asks voters if they want to limit state and local government spending, set caps on spending using fiscal 2010 numbers, and require voter approval by referendum for any spending over those limits and for increases in state taxes.
David Perkins, chairman of School Administrative District 51 in Cumberland and North Yarmouth, said he thinks Question 4 will create problems for school budgets.
"We already have a budget validation referendum process in place that ensures we have community support for our budgets," he said. "With Tabor II layered on top, it will significantly impact the state's ability to finance local education."
He said the curtailments from the state last year coupled with the expected reductions this year will make it hard for the state to provide adequate school financing.
"This will be a destructive layer and will not lead to any of the solutions that the public wants," he said. "People want affordable schools, they want good schools, and we can provide that with the present structure."
Ray said he is against setting a spending limit during the middle of a recession.
"The timing is bad because our economy is at a low," he said. "To freeze government spending at its lowest ebb makes it that much more difficult to build back up. I am totally against this."
Brigham said that the role of the elected officials is to meet the expectation of the community and adequately fund the schools.
"These two questions will hamper our ability to fulfill our responsibility to the community," she said.