Voters to weigh in on home care, $200M in bonds

By Stephanie Grinnell | Oct 11, 2018

In additional to local, state and national candidates on the ballot Nov. 6, voters also will decide a citizen initiative regarding Universal Home Care and four bond questions.

Approval of the Universal Home Care Program will result in a new 3.8-percent tax to  adjusted gross income above $128,400, according to information posted on the Maine Secretary of State’s website.

Supporters say the funding will allow more elderly or disabled Mainers to get the care they need at home. As well, supporters note, the workers providing that care also will benefit from receiving a raise in pay and benefits. Currently, care providers make little more than minimum wage for employment with long hours and little respect, according to mainersforhomecare.org.

The Homecare for All program would be funded by partially closing the loophole that allows individuals who make more than $128,400 a year to pay less in payroll taxes to fund Social Security, according to the website. The initiative would implement a payroll tax of 1.9 percent on both employees and employers on salaries and wages above that amount, the website states, and also tax unearned income, like dividends from stocks and bonds, above $128,400 at 3.8 percent.

Opponents argue that approving the measure would increase taxes for thousands of individuals and businesses. In a press release, a group campaigning against Question 1 — known as Stop the Scam — states that Maine would have the highest top income tax rate of any state if Question 1 passes. In addition, it would violate patient privacy rights; extend wait times for care because everyone, including part-time Maine residents, would be eligible; require all home care providers to be state employees; and would not be accountable to any state agency or lawmakers, opponents say.

The Portland Press Herald reported that in May, Question 1 opponents warned that some components of the ballot measure were likely to violate the Maine Constitution and federal health-information privacy law, but advocates said other existing state programs follow rules similar to the ones being proposed.

The opponents, online at stopthescammaine.com, also told the Portland Press Herald that raising taxes on higher-income Mainers would backfire by discouraging high-income professionals and companies from coming to the state.

According to a Bangor Daily News brief Aug. 27, all four gubernatorial candidates have declared their opposition to Question 1.

Bond questions range from funding improvements to water quality, roads and bridges, and higher education.

Question 2 asks if voters will approve a $30 million bond — to be paid back during a 10-year period — for water infrastructure improvements. The bond would be disbursed by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection through the Small Community Grant Program ($2 million); Wastewater Treatment Facility Planning and Construction Grants (more than $27.6 million); and Overboard Discharge ($350,000).

The Small Community Grant Program helps towns replace malfunctioning septic systems that are causing a public nuisance or pollution, according to Public Law 425, from which the bond question was formed. Overboard Discharge is described as help for homeowners with substandard or malfunctioning wastewater systems causing pollution. Wastewater Treatment Facility Planning and Construction Grants provide funds for facility planning, construction grants and hydrographic modeling in coastal watersheds, prioritizing areas with high-value shellfish resources, according to Public Law 25.

Question 3 is a highway bond that seeks approval of $106 million. The funding would go toward a federal matching grant of $137 million for a variety of projects ranging from new construction to ports to railroads to aviation to trails. Additionally, $5 million would be spent to upgrade municipal culverts. According to a 2017 story published in the Portland Press Herald, the proposed highway bond package is the last of three consecutive years’ borrowing. The Press Herald reported the bonds cover an annual budget shortfall for the state’s Department of Transportation.

Maria Fuentes is executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association, a trade group that lobbies for highway projects, according to the Press Herald.

“The reality is, Maine DOT depends on the passage of this bond to deliver the essential road and bridge projects it has outlined in its three-year work plan,” Fuentes told the Press Herald in November 2017. “This bond is desperately needed to prevent cuts to the existing Maine DOT work plan.”

The Press Herald reported that Mainers typically support transportation bonds and that lawmakers have  debated for years how to fill the Maine DOT budget shortfalls.

Questions 4 and 5 are related to higher education. Question 4 seeks $49 million for physical improvements to public universities, with the requirement that the money is matched by public and private funding. According to ballotpedia.com, the 16-member University of Maine System Board of Trustees would be responsible for determining which projects are eligible.

Question 5 seeks approval for $15 million in bonds to upgrade Maine’s community colleges. According to an amendment to LD 836 by the Legislature's Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, the money would be shared by the state’s seven community colleges — Central Maine Community College, Eastern Maine Community College, Kennebec Valley Community College, Northern Maine Community College, Southern Maine Community College, Washington County Community College and York County Community College.

Funding of about $2.5 million provided to CMCC would be spent to renovate and expand classroom laboratories, upgrade technology infrastructure, and improve the energy efficiency of heating and cooling systems.

EMCC would be allocated about $2.2 million for IT system upgrades, converting heating systems to natural gas and additional energy efficiency projects.

A new program in millwrighting and industrial mechanics, IT upgrades, instructional and library technologies and replacement of windows would consume nearly $2.2 million provided to KVCC.

At Northern Maine, about $1.2 million would allow expansion of the diesel hydraulics lab, upgrade IT and environmental controls, as well as expanding energy efficiencies and renovating classrooms.

Facility repairs, renovations and improvements as well as energy efficiencies, IT upgrades  and instructional and library services would benefit SMCC, with nearly $4.3 million in funding.

Washington County Community College is slated to receive the least funding, $885,853. That money would allow the college to renovate and expand labs, upgrade IT systems and invest in “instructional technologies.”

In addition to upgrading IT systems, about $1.7 million would aid in the development of York County Community College’s Industrial Trades Center in Sanford.

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Stephanie Grinnell
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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