MMA Takes Position on Ballot Questions

(from Maine Townsman, October 2009)
By Geoff Herman, Director, State and Federal Relations, MMA

For this year’s General Election on Tuesday, November 3, Maine’s voters will be formally presented with seven statewide ballot questions, five of which have direct impacts on local government. As it does each year during its meeting in early October, the Executive Committee of the Maine Municipal Association identified its position on each of those five questions.

Strongly Oppose Question 2 and Question 4. Question 2 is the initiative that would slash the motor vehicle excise tax rates for newer vehicles, create sales tax and excise tax exemptions for hybrid-type vehicles, and thereby cut $84 million in revenue each year that Maine’s towns and cities use to maintain and repair local roads and bridges.

Question 4 is the newest version of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR II) system that steps on municipal home rule authority by telling voters in all municipalities exactly how they can make certain budget decisions, caps the municipal and county budget growth allowance according to somebody’s guess on future inflation rates, and seriously constricts the capacity of state government to properly fund K-12 public education and the state’s transportation system.

Both MMA’s Legislative Policy Committee and its Executive Committee have voted to strongly oppose both of these initiatives.

Strong Support for Question 6 and Question 7. Question 6 proposes the issuance of a $71.25 million transportation bond for highway, bridge, and airport construction as well as capital improvements to public transit, ferry and port facilities. The revenue generated by this transportation bond is expected make an additional $148 million in federal and other matching funds available for the same purposes.

Question 7 seeks voter ratification of a constitutional amendment designed to provide municipal election clerks with a little more time to verify petitioners’ signatures on proposed citizen initiatives being advanced on a statewide basis. The problem this amendment is trying to address is the “crunch-time” that occurs when multiple statewide petitions loaded with thousands of signatures are presented to municipal clerks for signature verification within the narrow 5-day window provided under current constitutional law. This amendment would expand that review period to 10 days.

Both MMA’s Legislative Policy Committee and now the Executive Committee have voted to strongly support both Question 6 and Question 7.

Question 3, A House Divided. If adopted by the voters, Question 3 would repeal the 2007 school consolidation law and return the body of law governing the organizational structures of Maine’s public schools to where it was in January 2007. By the respective actions of both the Association’s Legislative Policy Committee and its Executive Committee, it is obvious that the municipal community is split on this subject.

In December 2008, when “Question 3” was still in its petition form, MMA’s 70-member Legislative Policy Committee was almost evenly split on the topic and has remained there ever since. After a thorough debate on that December afternoon, the motion to support the repeal effort failed by a margin of just two votes. From the tenor of the debate, it was clear that very few of the municipal officials opposed to the repeal efforts were enamored of the school consolidation law. Most municipal officials believe that however well intended the school consolidation law might have been, it was hastily enacted, haphazardly constructed, and poorly and inconsistently implemented. The prevailing argument made by those LPC members opposed to repealing the law was that although the school consolidation law left a lot to be desired, its enactment in 2007 is water over the dam, and at this stage of its implementation it should be repaired rather than repealed.

After the LPC vote rejecting support of the repeal effort, a motion to take a “neither for nor against position” on the question was adopted.

That discussion occurred 10 months ago, but the same debate was revived when the Executive Committee took up the subject earlier this month. The arguments were almost exactly the same. Some members around the table strongly supported repeal. The other Executive Committee members acknowledged that the school consolidation law is unnecessarily punitive and lacks the flexibility to be workable for many communities, but believe that it would be less complicated to repair a complex law enacted three years ago than overturn it, which would put a lot of local decisions made over that time in limbo. Those Executive Committee members also expressed an interest in working in parallel with the previous “neither for nor against” decision of the Legislative Policy Committee.

When the votes were taken, however, there were 6 votes in support of Question 3 and 5 votes in opposition, and so the official vote of MMA’s Executive Committee is to support Question 3. The entire Executive Committee agreed, however, that the most important communication to MMA’s membership was not as much the vote itself, but rather the discussion and debate that preceded it.