Referendum explainer

What you need to know about all the questions you’ll have to answer
By PORTLAND PHOENIX STAFF  |  October 28, 2009

There are seven statewide referendum questions on the November 3 ballot. Some of them are getting a lot of public discussion, including ads online and on TV and the radio. Others have slid by pretty much under the radar. But they’re all on that piece of paper, and you should know what your options are.

Portland City Council
Portland School Committee
Where do I vote?
Portland Water District

Question 1: Same-sex marriage
“Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?”

As soon as Governor John Baldacci signed gay marriage into Maine law on May 6, everyone knew where this debate was headed — to the ballot box. Indeed, same-sex marriage opponents, led by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, immediately started collecting the 55,087 signatures they would need to get a “People’s Veto” on the ballot; they say they want to let Maine citizens decide this issue, rather than leaving it up to the elected representatives who voted, in April and May, to pass the bill through the state Legislature. Since the summer, (pro-marriage) No On One: Protect Maine Equality and (anti-marriage) Stand for Marriage Maine have been engaged in a full-on firefight, each struggling to gain the upper hand with regard to fundraising, public awareness, and voter outreach. Both sides have pulled in big names and big dollar amounts from out-of-state supporters. On an off election year (with no big races to grab our attention or media time), it’s clear that gay marriage is the big question on this year’s ballot.
(See “Same-Sex Marriage,” by Deirdre Fulton, March 27; and “Play-by-Play,” by Deirdre Fulton and Emily Parkhurst, April 30.)

Question 2: Automobile excise tax
“Do you want to cut the rate of the municipal excise tax by an average of 55 percent on motor vehicles less than six years old and exempt hybrid and other alternative-energy and highly fuel-efficient motor vehicles from sales tax and three years of excise tax?”

The idea behind this citizens’-initiative question is to encourage people to buy newer, more efficient cars by giving them a tax break if they do. That would, in turn, improve the efficiency of Maine’s vehicle fleet, reducing fuel usage and carbon emissions. But state and municipal spending would not automatically decrease as a result of this, and yet revenue would. So someone else will have to pick up the tab, likely requiring adjustments to other taxes, including property taxes.

Question 3: School-district consolidation
“Do you want to repeal the 2007 law on school district consolidation and restore the laws previously in effect?”

Before the school-consolidation law was passed in 2007, Maine had nearly 300 school districts, each with its own superintendent and administrative staff, and most with their own purchasing and finance departments, curriculum-planning staff, and so on. The goal of the law is to get down to fewer than 100 school districts around the state, thereby reducing “overhead” spending on administrators by as much as $30 million a year, while still keeping funds available for teachers and educational efforts. Rural districts, in particular, have gotten significantly larger, which opponents fear will reduce local control of curriculum and other educational decisions. Urban districts will either not have to consolidate any further (like Portland) or may absorb small nearby districts.

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