The Universal Notebook: Wrestling with the referendums
Personally, I'm not a big fan of government by referendum. I know, I know – power to the people and all that. But there's just something too desperate and Californian about throwing every difficult issue out to public referendum and undermining the work of our elected representatives. That said, I do plan to undermine at least one legislative initiative on Nov. 3.
This year's ballot has seven referendum questions. I know where I stand on most of them, but the fact that I don't know what I think about a couple is a key reason I'm not bullish on referendums. I have a feeling a lot of people don't really understand what they're voting on when complex issues are reduced to one vague sentence and put forward for an up or down vote.
Question 1: "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?"
Answer: No, of course not. Marriage equality is a matter of civil rights. Despite what the religious opposition says, it is not a religious issue. And even if it were, no religion has the right to force its beliefs on the rest of us.
Question 2: "Do you want to cut the rate of the municipal excise tax by an average of 55 percent on motor vehicles less than 6 years old and exempt hybrid and other alternative-energy and highly fuel-efficient motor vehicles from sales tax and three years of excise tax?
Answer: Not sure, but this one smells like a skunk in a mink coat, a tax dodge masquerading as a conservation measure. Any measure that is supported both by Greens and the Maine Heritage Policy Center is suspect at best.
Question 3: "Do you want to repeal the 2007 law on school consolidation and restore the laws previously in effect?"
Answer: You bet I do. School consolidation was a mistake from the get-go. Now that 100 towns have rejected it, it's time for the state to do so as well. No real savings. Lots of real costs.
Question 4: "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?"
Answer: Are you crazy? This is TABOR II, a meat-ax approach to tax surgery. You can only vote yes on No. 4 if you don't really give a damn what happens to public education and human services in Maine.
Question 5: "Do you want to change the medical marijuana laws to allow treatment of more medical conditions and to create a regulated system of distribution?"
Answer: Yes. It's high time (sorry) we got over "Reefer Madness." Medical marijuana is legal in Maine, but there is no legal way to distribute it.
Question 6: "Do you favor a $71.25 million bond for the improvement of highways and bridges ...?"
Answer: Stop right there. I always vote against transportation bonds. And isn't this what federal stimulus money was for?
Question 7: "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?"
Answer: No one cares about this turkey except municipal clerks, but if extending the certification time from five days to 10 results in invalidating enough signatures to keep some referendums off future ballots, I'm all for it.