MUNICIPAL INPUT SOUGHT ON NOVEMBER BALLOT
(from Maine Townsman, July 1999)
By Kate Dufour, Legislative Advocate, State & Federal Relations, MMA

Although the November, 1999 "election" will not involve any state or federal candidates running for office, there will still be an important ballot presented to the state’s voters. This year voters will be asked to make decisions on two constitutional amendments, two citizen initiatives, and five General Fund and Highway Fund bond proposals.

Constitutional Amendments

Timing the People’s Veto. Voters will be asked whether they support an amendment to Maine’s Constitution requiring all "people’s veto" elections to be held during the June primary or November general election. Under the existing law, the Governor has 60 days to schedule the people’s veto election after the appropriate number of signatures have been collected and verified. Unfortunately, as was the case in the 1998 people’s veto of a law establishing discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, the timing of these elections do not always coincide with the primary or general election.

If approved, this change would accomplish two important goals. First, it would eliminate the unbudgeted municipal expense of holding the special elections. According to MMA research, it cost municipalities statewide an estimated $350,000 to hold the February 1998 special election. Second, this change would enable voters to make decisions on controversial issues at a time when a larger percentage of the electorate is accustomed and available to vote.

Property Tax Reduction for Historic Preservation or Scenic Views. Voters will be asked whether they support an amendment to Maine’s Constitution that would authorize municipalities to reduce the tax assessed on property dedicated to historic preservation or for the preservation of a scenic easement. This amendment would alter the constitutional requirement that all property be taxed equally according to its value.

Direct Initiatives

A direct initiative is a mechanism for citizens and special interest groups to get the issue on their agenda before the voters of Maine. In order for an initiative to reach the voters, the interested parties must collect the necessary number of signatures from the state’s registered voters, which is 10% of the total turnout for the last gubernatorial election. When presented with a properly supported citizens’ initiative, the Legislature may either enact the initiative as presented, or send it out to the voters as a referendum question. The November ballot will contain two citizen initiatives.

Medical Use of Marijuana. If adopted by the voters of Maine, the medical use of marijuana would be legalized. As proposed this law would: 1) authorize eligible patients, when approved by a physician, to use marijuana for medical purposes; 2) limit the amount of marijuana an eligible patient could possess; 3) enable an eligible patient’s legally designated caretaker to assist the patient with the administration of the "medication"; 4) require parental/guardian written consent for the use of marijuana by a minor; and 5) prohibit the medically sanctioned use of marijuana in a public place.

Partial-Birth Abortions. If adopted by the voters of Maine, partial-birth abortions would be illegal. As proposed this law would: 1) ban partial-birth abortions in all instances except when the life of the mother is at risk; 2) make the performance of a partial-birth abortion procedure a Class D crime; 3) subject the physician performing the abortion to damage claims by civil suit; and 4) exclude the mother from being prosecuted for undergoing the procedure.

Bonds

Voters will be asked to make decisions on five General Fund and Highway Fund bond packages. The bond packages request a total of $154.3 million in order to maintain the state’s transportation infrastructure, protect and clean up the environment, fund infrastructure improvements in the Maine’s technical college system, make improvements to Maine’s Public Broadcasting System and acquire public lands.

$56 million Combined General Fund and Highway Fund transportation bond. If approved by the voters the General Fund bond revenue would be used for: airports ($3 million); state-owned ferry facilities ($1 million); rails ($19.7 million); marine infrastructure ($11.7 million) and public transit($1.4 million). The $19.2 million Highway Fund bond revenue would be used for highway and bridge maintenance improvements. This bond package would match $112 million in federal funds.

$50 million General Fund bond for purchasing public lands. If approved by the voters, this bond would generate $50 million over five years, matching an additional $25 million in private contribution, to purchase public lands. The terms of the bond require that: hunting, fishing, trapping, and public access must be made available on the purchased lands except as may be limited by applicable regulation; the bond must be matched by $25 million in public and private contributions; 10% of the bond proceeds must be available to acquire public access to water; up to 10% of the bond proceeds must be available to protect farmland; and the issuance of the bond must be staggered at $10 million per year over the next five years.

$26.4 million General Fund bond for Maine’s Technical Colleges. If approved by the voters, this $26 million would be used to match $7 million in private or in-kind donations to make infrastructure improvements to the technical college system.

$12.5 million General Fund environmental bond. If approved by the voters this revenue would be used for: water pollution control facilities ($7 million); capping landfills ($2.5 million); tire stockpile clean up ($500,000); hazardous substance site clean up ($1 million); and drinking water systems ($1.5 million). The elements of the bond package related to wastewater and drinking water facilities matches $20 million in federal funds.

$9.4 million General Fund bond for Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation. If approved by the voters this revenue would fund a digital broadcasting conversion by the Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation.

Your Input Sought

MMA’s Executive Committee is seeking your input. At its meeting on September 15-16, the MMA Executive Committee will be reviewing the questions that will appear on the statewide ballot November 2 and establish the Association’s position on any ballot questions which the Committee believes to have a compelling municipal interest. All municipal officials are invited to give their municipality’s opinions of the ballot questions to any Executive Committee member. The Executive Committee members, and their communities through which they can be reached, are listed on page 3 of the TOWNSMAN.