Liberals backed by billionaire philanthropist George Soros have launched an effort for Maine to be the first state to ensure all elderly and disabled people have access to help with daily activities from bathing to medication management.
The proposed ballot question would increase taxes on high-earning Mainers in order to raise $310 million annually to provide such care, which would include home health aides, home repair, hospice care and transportation.
There is appetite in Maine to make the wealthy contribute more as income inequality grows nationwide, said Mike Tipping, spokesman for the liberal nonprofit Maine People’s Alliance.
“It makes a lot more sense to help people age in their home rather than ship them off to a nursing home,” he said.
The group’s campaign this month reported receiving a $350,000 boost from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Community Change Action and the Open Society Policy Center, also based in D.C., a nonprofit funded by Soros, who has long railed against income inequality. The Center for Community Change Action reported that the $150,000 it contributed to Maine’s effort came from the nonprofit linked to Soros.
“Maine has often been at the forefront of economic security issues, like innovative wage and tax policies, and could be on the cutting edge with this proposal for universal home health care,” said Bill Vandenberg, who leads Open Society’s work in states. “How Mainers vote on this issue could lead to it becoming a national priority.”
The initiative would create a new 3.8 percent tax on the portion of income above the amount that’s subject to Social Security employment taxes. Employees and employers would each pay 1.9 percent of wage income above that threshold – which currently is $128,400.
Democratic Secretary of State Matt Dunlap is reviewing whether the effort will qualify for the November ballot. The state requires 61,123 valid signatures, and proponents have submitted 67,000.
Hawaii recently passed a law providing up to $70 a day worth of services for a caregiver who assists a loved one over age 60 and has a full-time job. The state of Washington is considering a law to increase payroll contributions to provide family caregivers with $100 a day for a year.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration, the state Chamber of Commerce and Republican state representatives say the initiative would amount to one of the largest tax increases in state history. Maine lawmakers last year removed a voter-approved tax surcharge on the state’s highest earners following widespread criticism and lobbying by business and conservative groups.
“What this proposal represents is yet another example of a special interest group taking advantage of the referendum process in Maine to perpetrate one of the largest tax increases in state history on the hardworking people of Maine,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette. “Raising the pay for direct care workers is an issue that is currently being worked on in the Legislature, and it’s something we should be able to achieve within existing resources, not by raising taxes.”
Maine has the oldest average population of any state, and its people are in dire need of such services, Tipping said. If the fund is in danger of being tapped out, the proposed ballot question would allow limits on the amount of services available to each eligible individual.
“It would attack this from the care side, making sure everyone’s guaranteed they can get that care if they need it,” he said.