Opponents says the ballot measure is more concerned with pushing pro-labor policies than expanding access to care for the elderly and disabled.
Portland Press Herald
BY J. CRAIG ANDERSON, STAFF WRITER
Opponents of a ballot initiative that would raise taxes on wealthier Mainers to subsidize in-home care for the elderly and disabled have stepped up their rhetoric, calling the measure a scam and accusing its promoters of deceptive practices.
The group pushing the measure said such tactics only prove how desperate opponents are to prevent Mainers from creating a more democratic mechanism for funding home care that is free from the influence of lobbyists.
The opposition group, led by representatives of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Hospital Association and Home Care & Hospice Alliance of Maine, have adopted the slogan “Stop the Scam” for their campaign. They describe the ballot measure, known as Question 1, as a sort of Trojan horse that appears on the surface to be about paying for home care when its true objective is to push left-wing labor policies onto the state’s home care industry.
‘PRIVATIZED SHADOW GOVERNMENT’
“This referendum is a scam. It’s a tax scam, an elder scam and a big government scam,” the opposition group said in a statement to the Portland Press Herald. “It creates a privatized shadow government whose true purpose is to impose labor regulations on home care agencies.
Opponents noted that the ballot measure has received financial support from nonprofits linked to billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a prominent progressive who has contributed billions to liberal causes.
ut Ben Chin, manager of the Question 1 campaign, Home Care for All, described opponents’ rhetoric as “outrageous and irresponsible.” He said the opponents represent some of the wealthiest interests in the state and are trying to invent reasons why people should vote against the measure because it would raise taxes on wealthy people.
“Right now the top 1 percent in Maine pay a lower state and local effective tax rate than anybody else,” said Chin, deputy director of liberal policy group the Maine People’s Alliance. “The very well-paid lobbyists that are all making six-figure salaries know that the only way that we are going to fix this problem … is if we start making the wealthy pay at least as much in taxes as everybody else is in the state.”
Maine voters in November will vote on Question 1, which would impose an additional 3.8 percent tax on income above $128,400 to expand services such as home health care aides, home repair, hospice care and transportation. The tax on wage income would be split evenly between employer and employee, while other income such as capital gains and rental income also would be taxed at 3.8 percent.
The tax would generate an estimated $310 million annually that would be used to subsidize in-home care for qualifying Mainers of any age or income level, including wealthy residents. A nine-member board called the Universal Home Care Trust Fund Board would decide how to administer the funds.
The initial board members would be appointed by the governor, speaker of the House and president of the Senate (three members each), with subsequent board members elected by providers and recipients of home care in elections to be held every three years.
Both supporters and opponents of the measure are ramping up their campaigns and seeking volunteers and donations, according to their websites, mainersforhomecare.org and stopthescammaine.com.
BALLOT BOX VS. LEGISLATURE
The “Act To Establish Universal Home Care for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities,” created and promoted by the Maine People’s Alliance, is the latest example of progressive groups using Maine’s citizen initiative process to attempt to achieve policy victories at the ballot box rather than through the Legislature.
Two years ago, a different Maine People’s Alliance ballot measure sought to impose a 3 percent surcharge on high earners to subsidize education.
The referendum passed, but was eliminated by the Legislature, which instead increased state spending on schools.
Newell Augur, chairman of the NO on Question 1/Stop the Scam campaign and a lobbyist for the nonprofit Home Care & Hospice Alliance of Maine, said the home care referendum is light on details about how the board would operate, but that it goes into great detail about labor issues that have nothing to do with the measure’s stated purpose of funding home care.
For example, under the referendum any independent home care worker in Maine would automatically be considered a state employee for the purposes of collective bargaining, he said.
“The day this passes, you’re a state worker,” Newell said.
CRITICS CITE PRO-UNION AGENDA
Ben Gilman, campaign manager for NO on Question 1 and a lobbyist for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said the referendum can’t legally force home care workers to join a union, but he said some of the language in the measure is clearly meant to encourage it.
“The independent home care workforce is growing,” Gilman said. “They want to unionize them … to do it by fiat in a state law.”
Chin said there is nothing in the measure about making home care workers join a union. He said the referendum does contain language that is designed to improve working conditions and compensation for home care workers, who are notoriously overworked and underpaid.
“A lot of these folks right now have no bargaining power,” he said.
ADVOCATES SAY IT’S ABOUT FAIRNESS
Chin said Maine advocates for better access to in-home care have waited years for the Legislature to solve the problem, with very little progress to show for it. Meanwhile, Maine’s wealthiest residents have received three major income tax reductions over the past six years, he said.
“They (Question 1 opponents) are frustrated because we’re really calling into question that there are absolutely resources in the state to pay for this stuff, but it really does involve making sure the wealthy pay as much in taxes as everybody else,” Chin said. “So I’d say that’s the real source of their frustration and why they’re using such hyperbolic language.”
In May, Question 1 opponents warned that some components of the ballot measure would likely violate the Maine State Constitution and federal health-information privacy law, but advocates argued that other existing state programs follow rules similar to the ones being proposed.
The opponents also have said that raising taxes on higher-income Mainers would backfire by discouraging high-income professionals and companies from coming to the state, which would only exacerbate Maine’s economic woes.
Jeffrey Austin, vice president of government affairs and communications for the Maine Hospital Association, said Maine has faced an onslaught of poorly conceived ballot initiatives in recent years, and that lawmakers face intense backlash whenever they attempt to correct their flaws.
The Question 1 opponents said the referendum is so convoluted and legally questionable that it would have been defeated easily had it been a bill submitted to the Legislature.
“We would kill this in the Legislature without batting an eye,” Austin said.