Today, let’s discuss Question 2 on the Nov. 8 referendum ballot, which bears the deceptive title “An Act to Establish the Fund to Advance Public Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education.”

But it really should be called “An Act to Drive Maine’s Most Productive Citizens to New Hampshire, Florida or Texas.”

It asks: “Do you want to add a 3 percent tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to create a state fund that would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education?”

And it would spur relocation because the states I mentioned have prosperous economies, thus being attractive to people whose contributions and talents have yielded significant financial rewards.

Not coincidentally, these states have no income taxes whatsoever.

There’s an adage, with which I concur, that says, “I never had a paycheck signed by a poor man.”

Mainers in business or the professions who are achieving at above-average levels contribute to the well-being of many others through their spending, saving and investment. And they already pay taxes at Maine’s highest rate, which this measure will drive above 10 percent.

If approved, this law will resound nationwide when people who have the resources to invest and create jobs make decisions about where to start or expand a business, or move to practice their profession.

And one badly needed profession is especially vulnerable.

As Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, noted in a May 13 column on the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s Maine Wire website, “According to the Maine Department of Labor statistics, the profession that will be hardest hit (is medicine). … The national average is 90 primary care doctors per 100,000 people. According to 2010 census data, much of rural Maine is well below that. Why would more young doctors move to Maine if they are only going to be penalized for earning their salary – a large piece of which already goes to medical school loans, not to mention state and federal taxes?”

Maine’s education spending has already increased 18 percent in the past decade, while the number of students has decreased by 13 percent.

Nationally, there is only a slight correlation between spending levels and educational outcomes. The highest per-pupil spending levels are found in our largest metropolitan areas, but pupils in public schools there fall below educational standards far more often than in less-well-funded areas where inner-city pathologies are absent.

A June 2, 2015, story in The Washington Post analyzing U.S. Census Bureau figures on per-state school spending said Maine already spends well above the national average on K-12 education.

As the Post noted, “U.S. states’ education spending averaged $10,700 per pupil in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but that average masked a wide variation, ranging from $6,555 per pupil in Utah to $19,818 in New York.”

Maine’s per-pupil spending was $12,147, which means we were already 12 percent above the national average without this tax increase – despite the fact that we do not live in a prosperous state.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, suggests that there are better ways to improve results than mindlessly hiking taxes.

In response to a 2012 Obama administration call for a $25 billion increase in national educational spending, Heritage issued a “backgrounder” titled “How Escalating Education Spending is Killing Crucial Reform.”

It noted, “From 1970 to 2010, student enrollment increased by a modest 7.8 percent, while the number of public-school teachers increased by 60 percent. During the same time, non-teaching staff positions increased by 138 percent, and total staffing grew by 84 percent.”

Salaries for those (mostly unionized) positions are where most of the increased spending has gone. But, Heritage said, school systems could instead:

Reduce the number of non-instructional and administrative positions. At a minimum, “states should refrain from continuing to increase the number of non-teaching staff in public schools.”

Eliminate “last-in, first-out” policies. Staffing decisions should be based on “teacher effectiveness and competence, not years spent in the school building.”

Avoid across-the-board raises. Instead, “revamp teacher-compensation systems to better reward those teachers who have a positive impact on student performance.”

Allow alternative teacher certification and reciprocity of teacher licensure among states. “While the barriers to entering the profession should be lowered, states and local schools should make their own teacher evaluations much more rigorous upon classroom entry.”

Thus, raising taxes without genuine reforms is worse than useless – it’s actively harmful.

UPDATE

Three weeks ago, I offered to buy a box of ammunition for the first five people to prove they’d purchased a firearm after a home-grown Islamic jihadist killed 49 unarmed people in Orlando, and I’ve happily furnished one box of 5.56 mm shells to the proud owner of a new rifle.

But four boxes of your choice are waiting. Get yours before they’re gone.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

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