November ballot measures set

Posted Sept. 03, 2009, at 6:57 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Secretary of State’s Office announced on Thursday the lineup of questions that will appear on the ballot this November.

The Nov. 3 ballot will be led by a question asking whether Maine voters want to repeal the law, passed earlier this year, that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state. The law was scheduled to take effect Sept. 12 but was suspended on Wednesday after Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap certified that opponents had gathered enough valid signatures to force a statewide vote.

Question 2 will ask voters whether they want to reduce Maine’s excise tax on cars less than 6 years old and exempt hybrid vehicles from the sales tax and three years of excise taxes.

Question 3 focuses on whether voters want to repeal the controversial school consolidation law that was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Baldacci in 2007.

The fourth ballot measure, known as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights II, or TABOR II, proposes to limit state and local government spending and would require voter approval of tax increases.

Question 5 will ask voters whether they support expanding Maine’s medical marijuana law to include more illnesses as well as setting up state-licensed dispensaries of the drug. Right now, supporters of Maine’s 10-year-old medical marijuana law say there is no legal way for patients holding a prescription to purchase the drug.

The final two items on the November ballot are a $71 million bond proposal for transportation projects and a constitutional amendment that would give municipal clerks more time to certify signatures for initiative petitions.

Maine statutes require that people’s veto initiatives, such as the attempt to repeal the gay marriage law, appear at the top of the ballot followed by citizen-initiated bills. Secretary of State Dunlap chose the order of the four referendum questions by pulling tiny envelopes out of a glass vase during an informal ceremony in his of-fice.

Absent from the November ballot is a second citizen’s veto that would repeal a tax restructuring bill that passed the Legislature earlier this year. The bill, LD 1088, reduces Maine’s top tax rate from 8.5 percent to 6.5 percent or lower for Mainers earning less than $250,000 a year but would apply the sales tax to additional items.

Critics of the bill are scrambling to gather the 55,087 necessary signatures from registered voters by Sept. 11, which marks the close of the 90-day window to initiate a people’s veto effort after the Legislature’s adjournment. If successful, the issue would go on the June ballot.

“Nothing … will get it on the November ballot,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap pointed out that the real deadline for the petition drive’s leaders is Sept. 8 because that is when municipal clerks must have the petitions to begin verifying the signatures are those of registered voters.

One of those leading the effort to repeal the tax overhaul is Rep. Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle. He said Thursday that petitioners are hoping to collect at least 60,000 signatures. McKane and other critics question supporters’ contention that most Mainers will pay less in taxes under the bill. Opponents suggest the new system will harm the poor, the elderly and the state’s tourism industry.

McKane acknowledged that time is running short but expressed optimism that they will have enough valid signatures to trigger a vote next June.

“We’re just going to keep working,” McKane said by cell phone as he gathered signatures at the Windsor Fair. “We are going to keep our noses to the grindstone until the last minute.”

In recent days, the mostly Republican opposition to the tax reform bill has accused Democratic legislators of harassing signature gatherers and of “thuggish behavior and intimidation.”

Democrats said they are sending people out to the same locations as petition gatherers but said there is no harassment taking place.

Travis Kennedy, chief of staff with the House Majority Office, said Democrats and bill supporters were merely providing people with information on the bill in response to the “egregious things the petition gatherers are telling people.”

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