ELLSWORTH — Voters rejected what would have been a first-in-the-nation program to subsidize home care for elderly and disabled Maine residents by levying a tax on incomes above the Social Security threshold ($124,800 in 2018).
Hancock County residents rejected the measure by a margin of 61-39 percent. That was similar to the statewide margin, with 63 percent voting against the measure, according to preliminary results.
Support for the citizen initiative faltered in recent months as opponents raised questions about who would be taxed to pay for the program (individuals or families), oversight of the funds and privacy concerns.
An August poll of 500 registered Maine voters conducted by Suffolk University in Boston found 51 percent in favor of the measure, with 34 opposed and 14 percent undecided.
All four gubernatorial candidates opposed the proposal.
Yes on One Campaign Manager Ben Chin said in a statement that supporters of the failed measure would be “turning our full attention to the Legislature to make sure that they” take action on the state’s “home care crisis.”
Several citizen initiatives have succeeded at the ballot box in recent years, including Medicaid expansion, minimum wage hikes and a tax on income over $200,000 to fund public schools.
Maine is one of 24 states with a citizen initiative process, which allows citizens to effectively bypass the Legislature and propose their own bills.
The process has been around since 1911, when it was added to the state Constitution during a wave of progressive citizen reform efforts aimed at breaking up the era’s political power barons and monopolies.
In bond news, Mainers approved four bond measures (a total of $200 million in general obligation bonds) to fund improvements in public education, wastewater and transportation infrastructure in the state.
Hancock County voters showed particular support for community college and transportation funding, voting 70 percent in favor of Question 3 and 67 percent in favor of Question 5.
The bonds will cost $254 million to pay back over 10 years (with principal and interest), according to the Maine League of Women Voters.
Here’s the breakdown of where the money will be spent:
- $30 million for wastewater infrastructure improvements. The bulk of the cash ($27.65 million) will go to local wastewater treatment facilities and hydrographic modeling for coastal watersheds. A total of $2 million is earmarked for replacing malfunctioning septic systems that pollute coastal watersheds or cause a public nuisance and $350,000 is set aside to assist homeowners in replacing or fixing substandard or malfunctioning wastewater treatment systems, such as septic tanks, cesspools and other disposal systems.
- $106 million for transportation infrastructure projects. Most ($80 million) is to be spent on constructing and rehabilitating highways and bridges. The next largest chunk ($20 million) is designated for facilities related to harbors, airports, railroads, transit and bicycle and pedestrian paths. A total of $5 million would be spent on a “competitive grant program” to upgrade culverts and $1 million would be allocated for improvements to the Maine Maritime Academy pier in Castine. An additional $142 million in matching funds will be added for these projects from federal and other sources.
- $49 million for the University of Maine System to upgrade its buildings. The collection of colleges would be required to raise another $49 million in matching funds before they can get the money. University officials have said some of the money ($12 million) would be invested in university’s nursing programs to help address a projected nursing shortage in the coming decade.
- $15 million for Maine’s seven community colleges to renovate and expand instructional laboratories, upgrade information technology infrastructure and heating and ventilating systems.
Maine had $376.12 million in debt from general obligation bonds as of June, with another $190.21 million approved by voters but not yet issued. These types of bonds are usually used to fund projects that won’t produce much, if any, revenue on their own. Maine voters approved 97 percent of bond measures between 2007 and 2017, rejecting just one 2012 measure that would have supported expanding the community college system in the state, according to Ballotpedia.