No on Question 1
Question 1 asks whether Mainers want to approve a third casino for the state, this one in York County. But you wouldn’t know it from the referendum backers’ website and signs focus on jobs, funding for education and lower property taxes. The materials don’t use the word “casino.”
It is just another in a string of dishonest ploys from the group behind the ballot question, which would award a license to operate a casino in York County to only one person, Shawn Scott, who has a long list of legal troubles. Scott was the man behind the successful referendum in 2003 that paved the way for a racino in Bangor. He walked away with $51 million after selling his interest in Bangor Raceway to Penn National Gaming Inc.
Now, he’s back and trying to make even more money through Maine voters.
Backers of the casino tout its potential to create jobs and to raise money that can be used to reduce property taxes and fund schools, but we remain unconvinced that the York County casino would be a net gain for the state.
Maine voters must reject this gambit by voting no on Question 1.
As we have written numerous times, Maine should have long ago established a framework for any new casinos in the state. It would have set licensing standards, tax rates, gaming regulations and formulas for dispersing revenue. It could direct a developer to devote a certain percentage of square footage to non-gambling activities, such as conference rooms, concert venues and hotel rooms and require a set amount of upfront investment in a casino project. This could have saved the state from self-interested referendum campaigns such as this one.
Yes on Question 2
Governors in 31 states have said yes to Medicaid expansion, under which the federal government pays at least 90 percent of the cost of expanding the public health insurance to low-income people who aren’t poor enough or don’t have a disability to otherwise qualify for Medicaid.
These governors, 17 of them Republican, would not have expanded Medicaid — and continued to support expansion — if it caused state budget crises, tax increases, hospital debt or reduced care for the elderly and disabled, all false claims made by Maine expansion opponents.
In Maine, the Legislature has approved Medicaid expansion five times. Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed it five times.
Now, Maine voters have a chance to overcome LePage’s intransigence to join the states that have expanded the reach of health insurance to people who, although they are working hard, can’t afford it.
With expansion, more Maine people — about 80,000 more — will have health insurance, allowing them to access preventative care, vaccinations, addiction treatment, counseling and other needed care. Medicaid expansion will also put Maine hospitals on more secure financial footing by reducing their uncompensated care and expanding their patient base. It will also help the state’s economy as billions of federal dollars flow into the state, creating 6,000 new jobs.
If Maine expands its Medicaid coverage, it would cost the state $55 million in fiscal year 2021, the first year of full implementation, according to the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review. That year, Maine will receive $525 million from the federal government to fund the expansion.
Simple math shows the benefits to Maine far outweigh the costs by nearly 10-to-1.
Despite the clear benefits, LePage continues to spread false claims about Medicaid expansion, saying it won’t reduce the number of people without insurance or reduce hospitals’ unpaid care. A report on Ohio’s experience found just the opposite. That state’s uninsured rate dropped, newly insured people saw doctors, not emergency room personnel, for their care and their health improved.
Yes on Question 3
In 2015, Gov. Paul LePage proposed borrowing $100 million per year for at least 10 years to address deficiencies plaguing Maine’s transportation infrastructure.
The funding in this year’s Question 3 is the second installment of funding for priority projects on a long list of state transportation maintenance and improvement needs.
The Maine Department of Transportation expects to use $80 million from the bond to repair and rehabilitate highways and bridges. It will focus work on the highest priority highways and bridges. Of the remaining money, $20 million will be used for multimodal facilities — port, rail, aviation, bicycle and pedestrian and transit facilities or equipment. The matching federal and local funds would mirror state investments.
We agree with the American Heart Association suggestion that a portion of this bond funding be used for bicycle and pedestrian projects, both to improve safety and to encourage healthy alternatives to driving.
The remainder, $5 million, will go to the Department of Environmental Protection to upgrade culverts at stream crossings, an important investment in road stability, flood protection and wildlife habitat. This funding will be awarded to municipalities, nonprofits, conservation districts and others on a competitive grant basis.
Yes on Question 4
The state’s public employees and teacher retirement plan is funded through employee contributions, state appropriations and income from investments. The Maine Public Employees Retirement System tries to keep these payments consistent so that lawmakers aren’t surprised by pension payments when they put together a state budget.
Investment losses make that planning difficult. During the recession, for example, investment losses totaled nearly $5 billion, leaving a big hole to fill within 10 years, the current required payback period. In 2011, lawmakers in Augusta, who also faced reduced state revenues because of the recession, agreed to freeze and cap cost of living adjustments for retirees and the retirement age for state employees was raised from 62 to 65, for new hires.
With a longer period to pay back losses, these changes may have been avoided.
Some of the investment losses are recouped as markets recover and investments and earnings grow. But, repaying $5 billion over 10 years is a much more difficult task for budget writers, who must make cuts in other government expenditures to balance the budget, than paying back that same amount over 20 years.
Hence, this ballot question, which seeks to extend the payback period to 20 years, which is the industry standard. A yes vote on Question 4 will make state pension payments more predictable and stable, without harming state retirees or workers.