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The TABOR Question
Every year citizens face questions on the ballot, in addition to candidates. Some questions are put on the ballot by the legislature. By the Maine constitution, general obligation bonds of the state and changes in the Maine constitution have to be approved by Maine voters. But Maine also has a citizen initiative process by which citizens can collect a required number of signatures (a number based on the number of voters in the last major election— currently more than 50,000) and get an issue on the ballot. This year Mainers will face two questions. Read both questions at the Maine Secretary of State's website.
Question 1, the so-called TABOR Initiative, is one of the more heated debates of the campaign season where issues of taxes, government spending, local control, and out-of-state campaign interests will all come to a head. I recently attended a League of Towns forum on Mount Desert Island about Question 1, and even after all the debate and discussion of TABOR over the past several months, I learned a great deal about the complexity of this proposed law. The biggest lesson I learned is that TABOR is far more complicated than many understand and will impact every community in Maine one way or another. You may or may not agree with the kind of impact TABOR will have, but either way, we as citizens should be informed and head to the polling place with as great an understanding of the issues as possible.
The question that will appear on the ballot is simply, "Do you want to limit increases in state and local government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth and to require voter approval for all tax and fee increases?" Accompanying this question is a complicated legal proposal that will significantly change the town meeting process in your town, school budgeting, water and sewer district decision-making, and the state budget process. For example, question one requires that any budget increase greater than inflation (typically in the 2% - % range) plus/minus population percentage changes must first be approved by a 2/3 vote of all members at town meeting, school budget meeting, or of the legislature, and then sent out to the voters for a majority vote approval.
Many people have justifiable concerns about their property taxes and property values, and others have concerns about state taxes and spending. No matter what your feelings, I urge you to check out the proposal, the arguments of the pro and anti-TABOR advocates, and consider the types of changes that will occur in your community's democratic process if Question 1 is to pass. You may or may not like these changes— but I believe it is important for voters to understand that next February or March or June when your town has its next town meeting, Question 1 will significantly alter the budget and warrant approval process. Read the actual proposed TABOR law on the State of Maine website.
The only other state to pass TABOR is Colorado, but currently a portion of the law is suspended. Maine's law is very similar to Colorado's bill, except the spending limits on towns and cities are more stringent. Looking toward Colorado and the impact TABOR had on their state and local government is important when considering this proposal. TABOR did significantly limit the growth in government spending. By the same token, it also significantly limited the state's ability to invest in their university system, public health, roads, and public schools. Clearly, our decisions about state and local spending do have an impact on programs, investment and taxes— both positively and negatively.
So, while I have a personal opinion on Question 1 (I am opposed), I think it is important for every voter to investigate both sides of the issue and make their own choice. Read more from the supporters and opposition for yourself: