By: Valerie Kazarian, Staff Writer
On election day a vote for Question One is a vote for USM social work students and senior and disabled Mainers. This referendum would, if approved, establish a universal home health program for 27,000 sixty-five-year-olds and older and disabled Mainers. It includes support for worker training and would be paid for by narrowing a tax loophole that is available only to the very richest Mainers. While there is a strong lobbying effort opposing Question One, the core issues are not disputed and should be supported.
Maine is the oldest state in the country with a median age of 43.5 years and with the decreasing population of younger people, this distinction will continue until these population trends change. It is from USM’s pool of social work students that many of the workers needed to provide services to these seniors will be drawn and with 148 students in 2017, that pool is one of the largest programs at USM, being 15 percent of the total undergraduate population.
“There is no explicit mechanism for teaching facility improvement (in the question),” said Mike Tipping, Communications Director for the Maine People’s Alliance in an email, “but the board’s perogative includes increasing education and training of home care workers.” So, Question One would not only provide employment opportunities for the social work majors but also additional training and collective bargaining benefits.
There are people who oppose Question One and call the measure a scam, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Hospital Association and the Homecare and Hospice Alliance of Maine. The primary objection is to the closing of a tax loophole to raise the funds needed to support the home health care services. Right now, people who have an income over $128,400 pay tax only on their income up to $128,400. They pay no tax on their income over $128,400. If your income is less than $128,400, you pay tax on 100 percent of your income and with the average income in Maine of only $53,079, nearly everyone pays taxes on all of their income. However, that tax loophole would be closed by Question One and the approximately 7.9 percent who now escape paying the tax would be assessed a surtax to close that gap. It is with these additional funds that the home health care program would be funded.
Some also claim that passage of Question One would cause “chaos” in Maine.
“It’s a horrible idea to continue trying to raise taxes to pay for these things because it’s making Maine a more and more hostile environment for professionals and businesses,” said Jason Savage, Executive Director of the Maine Republican Party.
Jacob Posik, policy analyst for the Maine Policy Center offers a slightly different perspective, “This initiative would be devastating for Maine’s small business economy.” While decrying Maine’s high tax rate is commonly heard, Maine’s tax rate is actually neither extremely high nor extremely low and ranks 34 out of the 50 states in 2018. Also, one of the real reasons that Maine’s economy lags behind other states is because of our lack of good, statewide internet service. In that category the state ranks 49 out of 50. This is not just an inconvenience for recreational use of the internet but is also a disadvantage to schools and businesses. While Question One would be an employment generator, some blame it as a detriment to the state economy. This is simply a red herring.
At a recent Portland Community Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues Breakfast, I was able to ask representatives of both sides of the issue what they will do should the initiative fail. Newell Augur, representing “No on One/Stop the Scam” said there would be a continued effort to fine-tune existing programs such as reimbursement to hospitals and improvement to the homemaker program. He added that making home health care a vocation would be a goal.
Ben Chinn, Deputy Director of the Maine People’s Alliance, said they would continue to try to find a way to address the growing need. He said the improvement of existing programs would be supported but added that access to those programs hasn’t been expanded since the 1990’s.
“What is the yardstick by which we are measuring success?” he asked. “I would submit to you that if the yardstick that we are using is the same one that we’ve been using for the past twenty years that’s gotten us to this place, this is not adequate and at some point we do need to make a jump.”