BANGOR, Maine — The doctors and others who oppose Question 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot on Monday blasted new advertisements and an economic study commissioned by their political foes, calling them misleading.
“We ask voters to look beyond the distortions,” Gordon Smith, vice president of the Maine Medical Association, said at a No On One press conference at the office of Neurology Associates of Maine.
Question 1 is the ballot initiative that would repeal a new beverage tax on soda, beer and wine that’s designed to help pay for and expand the DirigoChoice insurance programs. Organizations that want to keep the tax in place include the MMA, AARP and the Maine People’s Alliance.
The tax’s supporters say it would cost Mainers mere pennies per drink and would raise about $17 million in fiscal year 2009.
The money would supplement a 1.8 percent surcharge on paid health insurance claims in order to meet Dirigo’s roughly $50 million operating budget.
It’s a new funding formula designed to replace the unpopular and unreliable savings offset program, say No On One officials.
But Question 1 supporters say the true cost to Mainers of the new tax would be higher than $17 million. It possibly could reach $40 million, according to the study by a University of Maine economist that was paid for by Fed Up With Taxes, the political action committee behind Question 1.
To get the higher figure, the study assumed Mainers drink 72 million gallons of soda and other sugared drinks a year.
“That means every man, woman and child in Maine – from newborn babies to World War II-age retirees — have to drink about two cans of soda or sugared drinks every single day, without fail, for 365 days a year,” Kurt Wise, a fiscal policy analyst from the Maine Center for Economic Policy, said at the press conference.
Also, an ad paid for by Fed Up With Taxes spotlights a Brunswick restaurateur who claims the new tax will cost Mainers $75 million.
Smith said that “$75 million is simply a false statement. Maine’s a small state and people ought to be able to agree on the basics.”
The No On One people said they called the press conference in response to the most recent campaign advertisements in support of the people’s veto. Press conferences — which are free — may be one of the only ways the group can get its word out.
Smith and others pointed out the vast funding gulf that separates No On One from its deeper-pocketed opponents. Health Coverage for Maine, the political action committee fighting the people’s veto, raised just $42,000 during the most recent reporting period, July 16 through Sept. 30. Almost all of the money came from the American Medical Association.
In contrast, Fed Up With Taxes raised $1.5 million in the reporting period — and most of that money came from Coca-Cola bottling companies, Pepsi bottling companies and Anheuser-Busch.
“We don’t have the millions of dollars that the industry has,” Smith said.
Adam Goode of the Maine People’s Alliance said that in the group’s door-to-door work, members are urging Mainers to reject the veto in part because of the out-of-state corporate donors that want it to pass.
“Tell someone that you’re voting against it because you don’t trust Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch to run our state,” Goode said.
Ted O’Meara, spokesman for Fed Up With Taxes, strongly disagreed with that sentiment.
“I think that’s really insulting to Maine voters,” O’Meara said. “Maine voters are going to decide this issue. They will have the final say.”
He said the group stands behind the numbers — even the $75 million figure, which includes money generated by the 1.8 percent surcharge on paid claims.
“No matter how you slice it, it’s a massive new tax for Maine people at a time when the economy is shaky and Maine people are struggling,” O’Meara said.