EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is taken extensively from a post-election roundup of state referenda, reported by Stateline.org, a nonpartisan organization funded entirely by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The TOWNSMAN has borrowed only the election issues and results that relate to the important issues facing local government in Maine and added some context for how the issues are playing out here. To read the entire Stateline story, or to get other election news, visit www.stateline.org
Voters in 37 states decided a whopping 205 ballot initiatives, ranging from fiscal matters to sex offenders to abortion and gay marriage, during the Nov. 7 general election. Following are results on issues that are already on the table for local and state action in the coming months, or are expected to heat up in the new year.
Nebraska and Oregon voters soundly rejected ballot measures that would put a cap on increases in state government spending. In Maine, the tax and spending limitation initiative targeted municipal, county and school government spending, as well, and was also defeated.
All of these measures were TABOR-like initiatives. Approval of any of them would have breathed new life into anti-tax crusaders’ efforts to clamp down on state spending. Similar spending initiatives this year got booted off ballots in Michigan, Montana, Nevada and Oklahoma, primarily because of concerns about the validity of the signatures.
With the failure of the Maine TABOR initiative, the governor and many legislators have pledged to continue work on tax reform, with an emphasis on property taxation.
Voters in 12 states decided whether to strengthen property rights, making the issue the most popular one on state ballots this year.
The states of Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon and South Carolina rolled back governments’ eminent domain powers by prohibiting the forced sale of land to private developers for economic development. Nevada must pass the measure again in 2008 for it to take effect. ( Louisiana approved a similar measure in September.)
In related measures, California, Washington and Idaho voters refused to follow Oregon’s 2004 example of requiring state and local governments to pay property owners whose land values were diminished by land-use restrictions. Arizona, however, approved a similar “regulatory takings” clause.
The Arizona, California and Idaho measures combined regulatory takings provisions with eminent domain questions.
The property rights backlash is a response to the Supreme Court’s July 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which allowed a local government to raze homes to make way for an office and shopping center.
Questions on gaming were on the ballot in five states: Arkansas, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Ohio and South Dakota.
Ohioans defeated a question that would have allowed slots at race tracks and at two Cleveland-area facilities, while Rhode Island voters turned down a proposal to permit a tribal casino. Arkansas voted to allow charities to hold bingos. Nebraska voted against allowing video gambling, and in South Dakota, where video gambling is now legal, residents chose to keep it.
In Maine, the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Tribes are awaiting word from the Secretary of State’s Office on whether the Washington County Tribal Track Coalition submitted enough valid signatures to put a proposed so-called racino on the ballot this year.
Racino is not a real word, but is used as slang for a horse- racing track that also features slot machines.
Meanwhile, the state’s only racino, located in Bangor, has attracted far more players and money than the owner, Penn National, predicted for its first year.
Another Political Action Committee, No Slots for ME, organized by the Christian Civic League of Maine, is trying to get enough signatures to put a competing measure on the ballot to repeal Penn National’s slot operation as well as ban any future slot machines in the state.
Efforts to build roads and other basic infrastructure projects got a boost in California and Minnesota. Californians approved five separate bonding proposals that, taken together, will allow the state to borrow $42.7 billion to build roads, levees, parks, schools, university facilities and affordable housing.
Minnesota voters decided to dedicate all of the revenue from the sales tax on vehicles toward transportation efforts; currently, only half of that money was spent on transportation.
One California measure that passed November 7 already has been scaled back. California voters overwhelmingly backed “Jessica’s Law,” which bans sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of parks or schools. But a federal judge has already temporarily suspended part of the law to make sure it is not applied retroactively to sex offenders who already live near parks or schools. A hearing to determine the measure’s fate is scheduled for November 27.
In Maine, the question of whether to restrict where sex offenders can live is expected to become a hot issue in the new legislation session. The towns of Waldoboro and Lyman in York County became the first Maine municipalities to enact such local laws following public anger over an offender being allowed to live some 800 feet from a school.
Among the 37 states to certify ballot measures this fall, Arizona had the heftiest ballot with 19 questions. The next-longest list was in Colorado with 14 measures, California with 13, South Dakota with 11 and Nevada and Oregon, both with 10.