November 3, 2009: A Little Something for Everyone

(from Maine Townsman, June 2009)
By Kate Dufour, Legislative Advocate, MMA

November elections in those off-years without federal, state or county candidates on the ballot generally generate lower voter turnout rates. In November 2007, only 27% of registered voters participated in the referendum election, but the 2008 presidential election brought 74% of Maine’s voters to the polls. Looking back at ten years’ worth of election data, voter participation has averaged about 38% in referendum-only elections, while the average rate of participation at elections with both candidates and referendum issues on the ballot has hovered around 65%.

This year may be different. By presenting the voters with a diverse slate of issues on November 3rd, Maine may be able to improve upon these traditionally low voter turnout rates. There appears to be something for everyone on the 2009 referendum ballot, including a bond package, a number of citizen initiatives, two constitutional amendments and, potentially, a people’s veto.

November 3, 2009 Ballot

Bonds. One of the final acts of the Legislature was the approval of the $150 million bond package, which if enacted by the voters would leverage nearly $230 million in federal and other-source revenues. LD 913, An Act To Authorize Bond Issues for Ratification by the Voters for the November 2009 and June and November 2010 Elections, includes funding for transportation, economic development, environmental protection, capital improvements and land conservation. The voters will be asked to approve different elements of the bond package over the next three statewide elections, in November 2009, June 2010 and November 2010. A full description of LD 913 is found in the Appropriations section of the New Laws article. What follows is a description of the transportation bond that will be presented to the voters in November.

• $71.25 Million Transportation Bond. $55 million of the bond proceeds are dedicated to the Department of Transportation’s highway and bridge program. Additional bond revenue would be used for capital investments in: ports ($5.75 million); railroads ($4 million); aviation/airports ($2.6 million); ferries ($1 million); the Gulf of Maine Research Institute ($1.5 million); the LifeFlight Foundation ($1 million); and the second phase of the Mount Desert Island Explorer program ($400,000). This bond is matched with $148 million in federal and other funds. (Note: The original transportation bond was slated to include $5 million for the local road assistance program, known as URIP (Urban/Rural Initiative Program), to offset the Legislature’s proposed FY 2011 $5 million cut to URIP. That will no longer be necessary because the $5 million in URIP funding was restored as part of the enacted Highway Fund budget bill (LD 333).)

Thanks to the efforts of Representative Doug Thomas (Ripley), the integrity of the local road assistance program (Urban/Rural Initiative Program – URIP) has been preserved. Although the Transportation Committee had originally proposed by a margin of 12 to 1 to cut $5 million out of the FY 2011 URIP appropriation (and use bond revenue as a replacement assuming the voters approve the transportation bond), Rep. Thomas successfully spearheaded an effort to overturn that decision. Due to those efforts, over the next two years URIP will be fully funded with fuel tax revenue. Rep. Doug Thomas

 

Constitutional Amendment. Voters will be asked to determine the fate of a constitutional amendment proposing to increase the number of days municipal election officials have to verify signatures on citizen initiative petitions. If approved by the voters, municipal election officials would have 10, rather than 5 days, to certify the signatures on statewide citizen initiatives. A complete description of LD 1145 is found under the State and Local section of the New Laws article.

Citizen Initiatives. Voters will be asked to cast votes on four citizen-initiated proposals, three of which have a direct impact on municipalities. One proposal reduces excise tax revenue collections. Another initiative amends spending limits in the form of TABOR II, and a third repeals the school consolidation law. A fourth initiative proposes to legalize the medical use of marijuana (LD 975).

Mill Rates

Excise Tax. Of most significance to municipalities is LD 974, An Act To Decrease the Automobile Excise Tax and Promote Energy Efficiency. This proposal cuts $84 million out of the approximately $235 million annually used by municipalities to repair local roads and bridges by reducing the excise tax rates assessed on automobiles less than six years old.

For the newest cars (4 years old or newer), the rates are cut between 50% and 70%. For vehicles in their 5th year, the rate is cut by just under 40%. There would be no reduction in excise taxes for any motor vehicle older than 5 years. Approximately 68% of all registered motor vehicles in Maine are older than 5 years. The excise tax assessed would be reduced as shown in the table above.

The initiative would also exempt from excise taxes for the first three years all hybrid vehicles, fuel cell vehicles, hydrogen-fueled vehicles and vehicles getting 40 mpg or better. The purchase of these vehicles would also be totally exempted from the state sales tax.

TABOR II. LD 976, An Act To Provide Tax Relief, is the 2009 rendition of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) legislation. This new proposal predominately focuses its spending limitation impacts on state government. As proposed, TABOR II makes changes to the existing spending limit law, commonly referred to as “LD 1” that since 2005 has imposed spending limits on Maine’s state, county, and municipal governments and all school systems. TABOR II repeals the LD 1 spending limit system as it applies to state government and replaces it with a structurally different system. TABOR II modifies the LD 1 spending limit system as it applies to municipalities and counties without totally replacing it.

Generally, the TABOR II changes would place additional limits on the authority of : (1) the voters at town meeting; (2) the representative town or city councils; (3) the boards of county commissioners and the county budget advisory committees, and (4) the Maine Legislature to adopt budgets or enact tax changes that exceed certain limits established by formula in the TABOR II initiative, replacing those authorities now given to direct and representative governments with mandatory referendum voting requirements. TABOR II also applies the state spending limit system to the state’s Highway Fund and Special Revenue Funds, requires statewide referendum voting to approve inflation-indexed increases to the state’s “gas tax”, repeals and replaces the state’s LD 1-based spending allowance with another formulaic limit, and recalibrates the state spending limit baselines in the General Fund, the Highway Fund and each Special Revenue Fund to their respective FY 2010 levels. Because of the economic recession, the FY 2010 General Fund and Highway Fund baseline levels are projected to be set at historically low levels.

School Consolidation. The final citizen initiative of municipal interest on the 2009 referendum ballot is LD 977, An Act To Repeal the School District Consolidation Laws. This initiative repeals the school consolidation law adopted by the Legislature in 2007 and restores all law regarding school organization and budget voting procedures that were in place in January 2007.

More information on the three municipally relevant citizen initiatives can be found on MMA’s website (www.memun.org).

People’s Veto. Through the people’s veto process, an effort to repeal the Legislature’s enactment of LD 1020, An Act To End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom, is currently under way. As enacted, LD 1020 allows same sex couples to marry.

In order for this people’s veto to be included on the November 3, 2009 ballot, the petition circulators must submit the required 55,087 valid signatures in time to allow, by September 4th, the Secretary of State to verify submitted signatures and the Governor to proclaim that enough valid signatures have been received. Although there isn’t a fixed timeframe set in law, at a minimum the Secretary of State’s Office needs 30 days to verify the signatures. Based on that time requirement, it would appear that the signatures would need to be submitted to the Secretary in late July or early August in order for the peoples’ veto to be included on the November ballot.

If the initiators submit enough valid signatures after the July/August deadline, but before September 12, which is 90 days after the adjournment of the Legislature, the initiative will be included on the June 8, 2010 ballot. The enacted law does not go into effect until the voters have decided the issue at the November 2009 or June 2010 election. If the initiators fail to submit the requisite number of valid signatures by the September 12 deadline, however, the law becomes effective on that date.