April 07, 2020

Good people with bad ideas

We’re pretty well-equipped to recognize dark characters with bad ideas who make it clear what their motives are and who speak in plain language we understand, such as: “This is a stick up. Hand over the loot.”

But it sometimes takes a lot of common sense, experience and networking with each other to figure out when good people have bad political ideas.

A case in point is LD 1601, a bill which would change Article VIII, section 1, of the Maine Constitution just enough to let us in for lawsuits resulting in the kind of trouble we had 25 years ago with the uniform property tax and the kind of trouble New Hampshire and Vermont find themselves in as the result of state supreme court decisions mandating new school finance systems.

LD 1601’s mother is Sen. Susan Longley, a Democrat, a lawyer, a teacher. Lovely girl. Dad was a popular governor. Famous brother. Lives in Freedom Fighter country (Waldo County) in the town of Liberty. I don’t know her, but I’m assuming she’s nice, bright and a good neighbor to all. But LD 1601 is one of the worst ideas to surface in this 118th Legislative Session.

In the Bangor Daily News’ very insightful editorial about LD 1601 (BDN, Jan. 7), this newspaper pointed that the end result of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equity, may also “result in an interminable number of court cases that produce little” and “an amendment could bring back the dreaded uniform state property tax and, with it, greater state say in local education issues.”

The NEWS is right. In fact, the section Longley targets was written by Thomas Jefferson at the request of William King, Maine’s first governor, when King made a trip to Monticello to solicit Jefferson’s advice on what should go into the Constitution of the new state to get it started right. Since he knew of Jefferson’s strong interest in the cause of educating the young, he was careful to get the ideas of the Founding Father inserted into the Maine Constitution substantially as Jefferson had written it out for him. That wording is unique. No other state has it.

It says that the Legislature shall “require the several towns to make suitable provision, at their expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools.” That provision, as we all know, has not barred the state legislature from helping out local towns with General Fund tax dollars to the tune of about 50 percent, but it has kept the concept of local control alive in the Constitution and, by inference, reminds us that we are designed to be a town-meeting state, in charge of our own lives and decisions at the local level.

The gentle Sen. Longley would rip out Jefferson’s language (which she termed an “awful clause” in her Jan. 26 Op-ed piece) and substitute wording which would leave us open to the new wave of lawsuits presently sweeping 15 other states in the name of “reform.” These lawsuits have turned Vermont into a battle zone over the state property tax enacted to satisfy that state’s Supremem Court decision in the Brigham case. Those with Internet access can read all about it at www.act60.org. The Vermont selectmen are leading the battle against their newly enacted statewide property tax, just as selectmen did here in Maine over the state property tax 25 years ago. The same kind of lawsuit brought in Vermont’s high court has caused New Hampshire Republican legislators to have a press conference just days ago announcing that they will seek a Constitutional amendment to save the state from the devastating Claremont decision, handed down last month by their supreme court.

What price would New Hampshire and Vermont have paid to have our wording already embedded in their constitutions? Language which successfully held off the lawsuit by 83 Maine school districts in a 1994 Kennebec County Superior Court decision. From that decision: “the language of Article VIII, section 1, the legislative history and the case law make clear that there is no constitutional right to a particular funding scheme.” Judge Mills writes: “Further, unlike the language in many state constitutions, the language in Maine’s Constitution does not contain adjectives which define the level of education for public schools.”

Longley wants to add words like “equitable and adequate” to present language and make education a “fundamental right,” thus leaving us defenseless against future lawsuits and stealing from our Constitution the kind of language other beleaguered states like Vermont and New Hampshire would giver their right arms for.

What can you do? Contact your legislators and ask them to vote “no” on any constitutional amendments which tamper with the wording of Article VIII. Ask them to inform their fellow legislators of what’s really going on and to also vote “no.” Only big spenders will vote for this one, so it’s a litmus test of just what kind of legislator you’ve got.

LD 1601 is a stick-up, using “the children” as the hostage. But we see through it. It’s a tax bill. She wants you to hand over the loot and she wants to maneuver the language so that either the Legislature will have a mandate to spend more money, or an unelected court could do the dirty work to get it. Nice girl … but a very bad idea.

Mary Adams worked to repeal the state property tax in the Freedom Fighter movement of the mid-1970s. The tax was repealed on Dec. 5, 1977. Prior to the referendum vote, Gov. James B. Longley joined the effort by saying that he would be voting for repeal. Following repeal of the state property tax, Longley appointed Adams to a term on the state board of education. She can be contacted by calling 924-3835, e-mailing her at mga@somtel.com, or by writing her at P.O. Box 10, Garland 04939.

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