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Referendum questions deserve answers, and fewer of them

One thing these questions show is that it's far too easy to get them on the ballot.

 

In Los Angeles last week on business, I was greeted with a surprising front-page story in the Los Angeles Times: "In Maine It's Like Prop 8 All Over Again."

It was about Brandon Brewer, a young man from that city who spent a year training groups there that opposed Proposition 8, the California initiative banning same-sex marriage that was upheld in a bitterly contested vote last year.

Brewer is now in Maine, running a phone bank to block the repeal of our new same-sex marriage law, Maine's Question 1 on the ballot on Nov. 3.

Maine is one of a handful of states that permits a so-called people's veto of any law passed by the Legislature.

It requires that 60,000 legitimate Maine voter signatures must be mustered within 50 days of the passage of the law.

These days it is not difficult to get that many signatures if one has the money. Many groups now do signature-collecting for a fee. Good canvassing of public places in Maine's major cities can yield 60,000 citizens willing to endorse most any cause in a few weeks.

As same-sex marriage is an issue that unleashes passions on both sides, it was inevitable that a veto would be on the ballot.

For many of us baby boomers, this is a contentious issue. While I have been a strong supporter of equal rights for gays and lesbians, I have struggled with same-sex marriage. It didn't fit my traditional view of how marriage is done.

As both my daughters suggested, my two positions on the issue were not consistent. If I believed in equal rights for gays, then how could I not support same-sex marriage?

Indeed, it seems to me that this issue is much more sensitive to my generation than to that of my daughters.

Most younger people that I encounter view this issue with a "ho hum, what's to discuss" attitude. To them same-sex marriage is simply an issue of society recognizing that times have changed.

I too have come around and intend to vote that way with a "no" vote on Question 1. My discussions with family, at our church, and in our community have made me realize that marriage is a right that should apply to all of us.

Same-sex marriage is not the only issue we vote on Nov. 3. Seven questions are on the ballot, which must be something of a record. For the record, here is how I will be voting on these questions.

Question 2 would reduce the auto excise tax. This sounds appealing except the state and local governments would simply have to raise taxes somewhere else to cover the shortfall. I am voting "no."

Question 3 would repeal the 2007 school consolidation law. School consolidation is an idea whose time is way overdue. We simply must do this to keep our already overly expensive K-12 system from costing us even more. I am voting "no."

Question 4: TABOR II is an initiative to put limits on the growth of state spending and make any increase above the limits subject to a majority popular vote.

Goodness knows the Legislature has not been responsible in the ways it has increased state spending over the past 10 to 20 years. Chronic deficits and patchwork fixes have become routine. Maine's economic growth prospects have been sacrificed and needed public-sector investments in areas such as higher education have been compromised.

At the same time, the notion of a statewide vote after every or most legislative sessions on specific tax increases seems a cumbersome way to govern.

Proponents would say, "Exactly, the threat of a public vote will force the Legislature and governor to stay within the spending guidelines."

Dick Woodbury points out in his excellent paper on the history of tax reform in Maine (www.bos.frb.org/economic/neppc/dp/2009/dp092.htm) that TABOR II limits are not well designed and are fixed in perpetuity.

All in all, TABOR II remains too onerous for me to support. I will take a deep breath and vote "no."

Question 5 expands the use of medical marijuana. I will vote "no" as it seems we have a reasonable approach already in place in Maine.

Question 6 is a $71 million bond issue for highway and bridge repair. I will vote "yes," as I believe there is significant need, and a yes vote will trigger an additional $148 million in federal funding.

Question 7 is a constitutional amendment to, essentially, make it easier to get citizen initiatives on the ballot.

As I believe it is already too easy to get these initiatives on the ballot – witness the number we are voting on this year, I will vote "no" on question 7.

I recommend reviewing last week's series in the Press Herald on each of these questions. They are available on this Web site. Most importantly, vote on Nov. 3.