Maine Legislature

House Democratic Office

www.housedemocrats.maine.gov

 

 

Feb. 7, 2013

Contact: Ann Kim 287-1488, cell: 233-1838

 

REP. KUSIAK: STATE MUST KEEP PROMISE TO COMMUNITIES

Revenue sharing measure would prevent property tax hikes on middle class, small businesses

 

The state has an obligation to local communities across Maine. It’s a promise we need to keep – for our towns and cities, our middle class, and our small businesses.

 

Good morning, I’m Representative Karen Kusiak. I have the honor of representing the towns of Fairfield, Rome, and Smithfield.

 

A measure to preserve state funding for towns and prevent property tax hikes is making its way through the Legislature. Without this measure, local communities will not get $40 that they were promised in the state budget.

 

Under a longstanding arrangement called revenue sharing, the state gives back a small portion of sales and income taxes to local communities. This promise recognizes the role our communities have in the state’s overall economy. These funds for towns support schools and important services like firefighting, road maintenance and trash disposal. The funds also keep property taxes in check.

 

In my small working-class town of Fairfield, local taxpayers have faced steady increases to property taxes as state funding has gone down. Over the past six years, state funding has fallen to half of what it had been.

 

I was a member of the MSAD 49 Board of School Directors and saw how school and town leaders worked to keep property taxes down each year. Schools cut positions, for example, while wages for town employees stagnated. Negotiations between town and school officials kept each side in check and our budgets trim.

 

But now, my community and others from all corners of the state face a desperate situation.

 

These days, it takes more than not replacing a retiring teacher, or consolidating services, or avoiding pay increases for hardworking public employees, to balance our budgets without further burdening taxpayers.

 

These days, to avoid crippling property tax increases, schools are faced with “solutions” such as dramatically cutting programs, including foreign languages, special education support positions, after-school transportation and applied arts. All at a time when we need to support our classrooms so students will be ready to meet higher expectations for achievement and graduation.

 

Meanwhile, towns struggle to keep public works and safety programs in place.

 

In Fairfield, about 10 percent of town positions have been cut already. Our town has already cut two police officers, a firefighter, and two administrative staff – a big blow for a community of our size.

 

Our town has already entered into regional agreements for services. Just this week I saw a rescue truck with the names of two towns on it: Fairfield and Benton – towns on opposite sides of the river and in different counties!

 

Our town manager says there’s nothing left to regionalize that would offset the funding losses Fairfield faces.

 

Cuts to vital services should not be forced onto the working-class taxpayers of Fairfield. Neither should property tax hikes that would result from cuts to revenue sharing.

 

Fairfield taxpayers – and the taxpayers in other Maine communities – deserve better.

 

I would not be representing my district and my constituents well if I did not join the fight to honor the promise to communities. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agree we need to protect these funds for towns.

 

We have worked together to protect towns before and we need to do it again.

 

Thank you for listening. I’m Representative Karen Kusiak of Fairfield.