Question 1 on the ballot this November will read as follows:
“Do you want to create the Universal Home Care Program to provide home-based assistance to people with disabilities and senior citizens, regardless of income, funded by a new 3.8% tax on individuals and families with Maine wage and adjusted gross income above the amount subject to Social Security taxes, which is $128,400 in 2018?”
This language, however, doesn’t begin to describe what is buried in the proposed legislation. In fact, Question 1 includes provisions entirely unrelated to improving care for older and disabled adults — and in some cases with dangerous impact on patient privacy, representative government and the freedom of independent home care workers.
Maine voters won’t know this just by reading the ballot question. So on behalf of the tens of thousands of Maine people and small businesses opposed to Question 1, we want to ensure BDN readers have the full story.
Regarding the new tax in Question 1, it’s not limited to individuals. More than 60,000 families would be hit, according to analysis by the state economist. That includes married couples, say a nurse and a teacher, who individually make less $128,400, but combined exceed that amount. Half of the $310 million tax would be paid by these working families.
Question 1 would give Maine the unenviable distinction of having the highest income tax rate of any state in the country. According to our state economist, this could cause a loss of nearly $2 billion in personal income and a departure of 1,700 people from our labor force in less than 5 years — a disastrous impact on Maine’s economy.
But that’s not the worst of it.
Question 1 does not include residency or income requirements for seniors to qualify for the benefit. That means nonresident millionaires and tourists here for the summer would be eligible, likely resulting in wait lists for assistance and delayed care for those truly in need.
Question 1 sets up a shadow government board to spend $310 million. The board is given broad authority to set rates, conduct investigations and impose consent decrees. But it is not accountable to our state Legislature or any state agency. The members are chosen only by people and agencies that are receiving money or benefits from the program. The taxpayers paying for it have no say.
Question 1 violates patient privacy rights and federal privacy laws. In order to facilitate the “election” of the board (and there’s no mention how they’re going to conduct those), the private health information of older and disabled adults would be given over to potentially thousands of people in newly created “constituency organizations.” This transfer of information — including home addresses and phone numbers — isn’t for payment, treatment or a public health benefit. Instead it’s so these constituency organizations can go campaigning. Because there is no opt out, the older and disabled adults whose privacy would be at risk are powerless to stop it from happening.
It gets worse.
Question 1 would require all individual caregivers — even family members caring for a loved one — to be state employees and potentially pay fees to the state employees union, even though they don’t work for the state, aren’t hired by the state and wouldn’t receive state employees’ benefits.
These flaws, and others, have been noted by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who changed the wording of the question to accurately reflect that the tax impacts families, former Chief Justice Daniel Wathen, who indicated concerns over the question’s constitutionality, and the four candidates for governor who all publicly oppose Question 1. Yet, the proponents continue to hide the dangerous impact of this scheme or — worse — blatantly misrepresent it. They deny that it will tax working families, dismiss suggestions that their board is unconstitutional, obfuscate any discussion about the violation of patient privacy rights and downplay the fact that every individual home care worker — even those taking care of a loved one — will become state employees if Question 1 passes.
The proponents would rather rely upon 30-second television ads funded almost exclusively by George Soros, an out-of-state billionaire who won’t pay this tax and won’t have his private health information compromised. Their strategy from the beginning has been to avoid a thoughtful evaluation of this proposal.
And that’s because they know as soon as Maine people realize what is actually in Question 1, it will never pass.
Newell Augur represents the Home Care & Hospice Alliance of Maine and chairs the No on Question 1 campaign. Ben Gilman represents the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and is campaign manager for No on Question 1.
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