Portland – According to official city documents Portland’s Legislative and Nominating Committee will consider using Portland’s local property tax dollars to fund the political campaigns of candidates seeking office in the city of Portland.
The agenda packet for the April 1, 2019 meeting of the committee includes, along with consideration of allowing non-citizens to vote, a proposal for a so-called “clean elections” program at the local level to be considered in the work plan for the month of April.
The idea was initially previewed by Mayor Ethan Strimling in a January speech where he also proposed the controversial non-citizen voting initiative.
“That is why this year I will also ask the council to create a municipal clean elections program for city council elections. Many municipalities around the country including Santa Fe, Austin, Long Beach, Tucson, New Haven, and Boulder, already have programs in place,” said Strimling in his speech.
The proposal to provide Portland politicians with local tax dollars to run their political campaigns comes as Portland considers a school budget that increases spending by ten times the funding increase proposed by Governor Janet Mills in her state budget.
As a result, Portland property owners are already facing an increase in their property taxes, as Portland Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana says the funding increase proposed by the state is not enough.
The cost of
a local taxpayer funded elections program is likely to cost the people of
Portland several hundred thousand dollars a year, if not more.
Portland’s Mayoral elections are decided through ranked-choice voting, the cost
of a program such as will be considered is a wild-card.
In 2011, fifteen candidates ran for Mayor under the city’s ranked-choice voting system. In a scenario such as that, if every candidate qualified under the program and was provided 75% of what Ethan Strimling raised in 2015, Portland residents would fork over in excess of $1.1 million to buy lawn signs, mailers and cover other expenses, just for the candidates vying to be Mayor of Portland.
That number could increase precipitously if city council and school board candidates were also added to the program, even if at a lower cost.
Strimling also has pushed passage of a law that would allow Portland to impose a new local sales tax, recently testifying to the Maine Legislature’s Taxation Committee in favor of any of four different proposals that would allow such a local tax be imposed in Portland.
Strimling and other local leaders have given lip service to controlling or
reducing property taxes, the upcoming city budget almost certainly will require
a property tax increase, even with school funding and revenue sharing funds
from the state both expected to increase.
put Strimling in a tough position as he faces re-election later this year.
Voters who have been told that rising property taxes were the result of state government not funding their fair share of local costs will be less forgiving of Mayor Strimling if property taxes rise again despite state subsidy increases.
Strimling likely won’t have the convenience and cover of his political party in blaming Augusta for a lack of funding now that Democrats control both chambers of the Maine Legislature and hold the Governor’s office. Another wild-card in Strimling’s re-election bid is the impact of his push to allow non-citizens to vote in Portland elections. That proposal is also on the Legislative and Nominating Committee’s work plan for the month of April.
Supporters of taxpayer funding of political campaigns say the programs aim to take “big money” out of politics, while opponents say their is no evidence to back up that claim. Opponents say the programs simply cost taxpayers more and forces them to pay for candidates they may not support, but point to the rise of dark money groups and political action committees as evidence the programs do not get “big money” out of politics.