Referendum explainer

By PORTLAND PHOENIX STAFF  |  October 28, 2009

Question 4: Limiting state and local spending
“Do you want to change the existing formulas that limit state and local government spending and require voter approval by referendum for spending over those limits and for increases in state taxes?”

This is what some people are calling “TABOR II,” after the failed Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights referendum in 2006. This proposal would cap state, county, and municipal spending increases to mirror changes in population and the inflation rate. If lawmakers at any of those levels wanted to exceed those spending caps, they would have to seek voters’ approval in separate referenda. Proponents say this is the only way out-of-control government spending will ever be reined in. Opponents say this is too broad an approach and will cause additional cuts in government services.

Question 5: Medical marijuana
“Do you want to change the medical marijuana laws to allow treatment of more medical conditions and create a regulated system of distribution?”

This bill, promoted by the Maine Medical Marijuana Policy Initiative and Maine Citizens for Patient Rights, would create medical-marijuana dispensaries to legally grow and distribute pot to those patients whose doctors have recommended it. Those patients would also be issued identification cards showing that they have the right to possess medical marijuana, according to a provision in the bill. It would expand access to medi-mari to those who suffer from Alzheimer’s or Lou Gehrig’s diseases. Medical marijuana is currently permissible in Maine, but advocates say it’s nearly impossible to navigate the system legally — for growers and patients alike. Yes on Five advocate Jonathan Leavitt says that “beyond the usual enablers of bad drug policy,” the public seems supportive.
(See “Going to Pot,” by Deirdre Fulton, April 15; and “An Old Dog Teaches His Tricks,” by Deirdre Fulton, June 10.)

Question 6: Transportation bond
“Do you favor a $71,250,000 bond issue for improvements to highways and bridges, airports, public transit facilities, ferry and port facilities, including port and harbor structures, as well as funds for the LifeFlight

Foundation that will make the State eligible for over $148,000,000 in federal and other matching funds?”
This would be the latest in what seem to be roughly annual bond requests from the state to invest in various things often lumped together under the barely-useful label “infrastructure.” We Mainers would borrow just over $71 million, to be paid back with interest over 10 years. But because we ponied up that amount, we’d get more than $148 million in federal and other money contributed from outside the state. Supporters say we need this work done, and that doing it will help create jobs, even just temporarily. Opponents (if we could find any) would say the state owes enough money already and should quit borrowing from the future.

Question 7: Constitutional Amendment
“Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to increase the amount of time that local officials have to certify the signatures on direct initiative petitions?”

Mainers like to create laws by having special-interest groups draft language, get signatures, and force a vote at the polls. At any given moment, there are several petition drives on around the state seeking to enact laws that didn’t make it through the Legislature for one reason or another. (Indeed, Questions 2, 3, 4, and 5 on this very ballot are initiative questions.) This would make that process easier on local officials, by giving them more time to certify signatures on petitions as having come from actual registered voters in their towns. (At the moment, they have five business days to turn around petitions that are submitted; this would give them an additional five days.)

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