TABOR, excise tax questions soundly defeated

Posted Nov. 03, 2009, at 10:27 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 26, 2010, at 7:19 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Maine voters soundly rejected a pair of tax-related referendums that sought to reduce the excise tax on some vehicles and place limits on state and municipal spending.

Proponents of Question 2, the excise tax initiative, and Question 4, known as TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) II, both conceded defeat shortly after 10 p.m. on Tuesday.

Based on unofficial results compiled by the Bangor Daily News, Question 2 was behind 74 percent to 26 percent and Question 4 trailed 60 percent to 40 percent as of 1 a.m. with 87 percent of statewide results tallied.

“It feels great that for a third time, Maine people have said they want to invest in schools and communities and not let out-of-state interests take that away,” said Crystal Canney from the No on 4 campaign. “We hope it’s a large enough margin for the proponents to understand three strikes and you’re out.”

Lizzy Reinholt with the No on 2 campaign said she was surprised at such a lopsided victory.

“We had so much support from cities and towns on this. I think residents are aware of the effect this would have had on municipal budgets,” she said.

Chris Cinquemani of Maine Leads and the chairman for Yes on 2 conceded defeat early.

“If you look at how much money was spent on the no side, it was easy to predict,” he said.

David Crocker with the Yes on 4 campaign said he also was prepared for an early defeat and had a similar explanation.

“Philosophically, I’m not surprised given the magnitude of spending on the other side,” he said. “They were running a fear-based campaign.”

Question 2, an effort to reduce excise taxes on newer and more fuel-efficient vehicles, was pushed by a pair of conservative policy groups, the Maine Heritage Policy Center and Maine Leads. The Heritage Policy Center also led the charge on Question 4, which sought to impose spending limits on state and local budgets and require voter approval on any increases.

The two questions have been linked because they typify the same overall philosophy on taxes and because they share many of the same proponents and opponents.

Geoff Herman with the Maine Municipal Association, which opposed both tax questions, was pleased with the results.

“We didn’t have doubts on Question 2 for quite a while. I think voters saw through the superficial appeal of that,” he said. “We were not as confident with TABOR as it moved through the system. It was harder for us to explain the negative impacts, but in the end, voters saw through that as well.”

Christopher St. John, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, praised the defeat of Question 4.

“The proponents of Question 4 said they wanted Maine people to decide and the voters appear to have decided decisively they did not want to put Maine government on auto-pilot,” he said. “We hope that the proponents will now accept the repeated expression of Maine voters to allow our current systems of representative government and budgeting to work as designed.”

In a different year, the two tax questions might have garnered more interest, but Question 1, the same-sex marriage issue, has generated the most visceral responses from voters. Amy Fried, a political scientist at the University of Maine, said higher turnout driven by Question 1 favored the no sides of Questions 2 and 4.

“The two questions that people seem to be voting on are Questions 1 and 4, and in most cases, voters are voting the same way on both,” she said.

Nicholas Barrett, 20, of Bangor voted yes on Question 4.

“I like it. It controls government spending and puts it in the control of the people. I wish we could do that at the federal level,” he said.

Also in Bangor, Jenna Isherwood, 32, voted no on Questions 2 and 4.

“It seems like Question 2 wouldn’t help enough people who need help,” she said. “And Question 4 was just too confusing. Why are we taking all the power away from the people we elect?”

Mainers had rejected two similar TABOR initiatives in five years. In 2004, the Palesky tax cap initiative went down to defeat by 63 percent to 37 percent. In 2006, 54 percent voted against the first Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

This year’s version of TABOR proposed restricting the growth of government spending to the rate of inflation plus population changes, overturning restrictions in place since 2006 that link General Fund spending rates to personal income growth. If TABOR II passed, state or local government officials could still spend more, but only by getting voter approval first. Any proposed tax increases also would have to be put to a public vote.

Both sides of Question 4 had used Colorado as an example of why TABOR would help or hurt. Supporters point to tremendous growth in the mountain state since it passed a version of TABOR in the early 1990s. Opponents, however, claimed that Colorado was growing long before TABOR and recently suspended portions of its bill.

Canney and Herman hope that TABOR backers will give up the fight, but Crocker said it’s too early to predict whether the issue would be brought up again in the future.

On the excise tax initiative, Question 2 supporters said Maine taxpayers would save $80 million a year while promoting cleaner air and greater fuel efficiency. Critics countered that it would result in a tax shift that would either cripple municipal budgets or result in higher property taxes to make up the difference. Opponents also said the bill was flawed because a majority (68 percent) of vehicles on the road in Maine are older than that and the owners would not have seen any effect.

“From the beginning, this was about promoting a conversation to reform Maine’s excise taxes,” Cinquemani said. “It’s looking like this might not be the proposal for [Maine voters], but I think we were successful in bringing this issue to the public.”

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