AUGUSTA — Voters Tuesday rejected by wide margins two initiatives aimed at controlling local taxation. The so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR II) failed for the third time in five years, as did an initiative to reduce automotive excise taxes.
“It is disappointing, simple as that,” Steve Bowen, an educational consultant with the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC), said following early ballot returns.
The conservative nonprofit lobbied and donated in favor of Question 2, which would have reduced automobile excise taxes on newer vehicles and stalled excise taxes on hybrid vehicles for three years. The group also organized in favor of Question 4, better known as TABOR II.
MHPC gave $42,000 of the $64,000 raised in support of Question 2 and $42,000 of the $303,000 favoring passage of Question 4. Opponents of Question 2 and Question 4 each raised $2.3 million against the initiatives and cited the importance of excise taxes in maintaining Maine’s local roads and bridges, as well as providing revenue for education, as reasons for opposition.
“You hate to think that a major part of the outcome was about the money that was spent to defeat these three questions, but it sure is hard to conclude otherwise,” Bowen said Tuesday. “The ‘No’ side dramatically outspent the ‘Yes’ side by a huge margin in all three cases, and prevailed in each.”
He added money spent to defeat Question 3, which would have repealed a 2007 school consolidation law, to the list of heavily funded campaigns opposing tax caps.
“The defeat of Question 3 seems to me to be inconsistent with the vote against Question 4,” Bowen said. “Maine people clearly think we need to keep the district consolidation process moving forward — to save money, I would guess — but turned down TABOR, which would have a much more profound effect on spending and budget savings than district consolidation ever will.”
Early tallies indicate the consolidation repeal effort, Question 3, failed with 48 percent of the vote during early tallies.
David Connerty-Marin, communications director for the Department of Education, said Wednesday, “It’s great to see the very strong support for keeping the reorganization law in place. Even in some of the areas where there has been more vocal opposition, the vote was not nearly as negative as news reports might have led us to believe.”
The Department of Education had spent the past two weeks preparing to work with the 126 districts that have yet to reorganize under the 2007 consolidation law and had been waiting for the referendum results before beginning talks.
“We will continue to work with the districts that have already reorganized, which represent more than 55,000 students in the state, on implementing their new systems,” Connerty-Marin said. “These districts are doing excellent planning to expand educational opportunities to all the students in their district, and in several cases have already done so, even though they have been in existence less than five months.”
Connerty-Marin said improved programming is “the exciting work of reorganization. And along the way, those same districts have also started to realize some significant savings.”
Whether for education, roads, or general services, Bowen believes Maine’s reliance on taxation is misplaced.
“The definition of insanity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results,” he said. “Forty years of trying to tax and spend our way to prosperity clearly hasn’t worked, yet Maine people just voted to keep on going down the same road regardless.”
Insanity or not, MHPC plans to continue working for reduce taxes in Maine.
“We certainly intend to keep working to provide some alternatives to the failed status quo, but it is very concerning to me that the message sent to the politicians and the special interests tonight was ‘Keep on doing what you are doing,’” Bowen said. “Is that the message we need to send?”
For more political news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.