A bill from Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, to restore full state responsibility for teacher retirement costs received a earned bipartisan approval from the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee Monday. The committee vote was 8 - 5.
“This bill reverses an unfair tax shift to property taxpayers,” said Kumiega. “It brings stability to local budgets and moves away from balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it.”
The biennial budget passed in 2013 required Maine cities and towns, for the first time ever, to pay some teacher retirement costs. Kumiega submitted his bill to end that requirement after constituents in his district raised concerns about the increased burden on local budgets.
State government has mechanisms to raise revenue based on ability to pay and can shoulder and disburse Maine’s tax burden in ways that cities and towns cannot. Requiring towns to pay for teacher retirement costs burden already-struggling schools. In order to meet the new costs, they have laid off teachers, cut programs, cut vital services in other parts of local government, raised property taxes or all of the above.
“I hope the Legislature will pass this bill for the sake of stronger schools and a better deal for Maine families – especially island residents,” said Kumiega. “The retirement system was designed with the understanding that retiring teachers would be treated as employees of the state – not of the towns.”
Public support for the bill was strong at a hearing this month. Democrats, Republicans, the Maine Municipal Association, the Maine School of Management, the Maine Mayors Coalition and the Maine Principals Association spoke in support of Kumiega’s bill.
The measure now heads to the full Legislature for a series of votes. For more information, go to:http://legislature.maine.gov/LawMakerWeb/summary.asp?ID=280054119
Kumiega is serving his third term in the Maine House and represents the Cranberry Isles, Deer Isle, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, North Haven, Southwest Harbor, Stonington, Swan’s Island, Tremont, Vinalhaven and Marshall Island Township.