Endorsement: Voting recommendations for the referendum questions and bond issue

The Penobscot Bay Press

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We urge readers to carefully read the material on these issues published in the Voter Primer in this issue and posted on our website as they make their ballot choices. Our considered recommendations for your choices follow.

Participate in our democracy, where your choice makes a difference. Go to the polls on Tuesday, November 8.

Question 1: Legalizing marijuana

“Do you want to allow the possession and use of marijuana under state law by persons who are at least 21 years of age, and allow the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing and sale of marijuana and marijuana products subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?”

The question seeks approval for a complex proposed law that would legalize growing, distributing, possession and taxing the sale of marijuana under a variety of state and local legal restrictions and regulations. The proposed law is complicated and undoubtedly will be subject to legal challenge and interpretation.

It brings to the front the whole issue of marijuana use in our communities and state. It is a long-overdue addressing of marijuana use that has become a cultural norm in many segments of our society. The proposed law will recognize the widespread use of the drug, decriminalize many aspects of its use, generate tax revenues and free up law enforcement and jail resources for other uses.

For many, this is a big step in coming to terms with a society that now equates marijuana use with the way alcohol use has been treated since the repeal of prohibition over 80 years ago.

With some reservations, we recommend a YES vote.

Question 2: Education tax

“Do you want to add a 3% tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to create a state fund that would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education?”

There are serious problems with this proposal. First, it ties the hands of local school boards, allowing the money to be spent only on teacher and teacher support staff. None of the money could be spent for programs, facilities, administration, equipment or technology. Under the current state funding formula, we have reported that it is likely that none of the nine school districts on the peninsula, island and Isle au Haut would be eligible to receive any of these funds. Over the years, various attempts have been made to specifically allocate tax monies to fulfill the legal requirement of state funding of 55 percent of the cost of public education. Somehow, the appropriate funds never seem to be allocated by the Legislature. This latest attempt could be no different. Local school superintendent Mark Hurvitt, with many years’ experience as a teacher, principal and superintendent, is quoted in our coverage of Question 2 as saying, “I think it is an unfair proposition [and] it seems like an arbitrary tax.”

We strongly recommend a NO vote.

Question 3: Firearms background checks

“Do you want to change the Maine law to require background checks prior to the transfer of firearms between individuals, with some exceptions for certain circumstances?”

This is a national battle that is being fought by both sides in Maine. The vast majority of guns in Maine are used for the centuries-old cultural traditions of hunting. Under this proposed law it would be a crime for individuals to sell, give or lend a firearm to a friend, family member or anyone else without a background check by a licensed gun dealer with a fee required. Yes, there are abuses of gun ownership and use in many locales and segments of our population elsewhere in our country, but this is an overly intrusive and unnecessary measure that has no place in Maine.

We strongly recommend a NO vote.

Question 4: Raise minimum wage

“Do you want to raise the minimum hourly wage of $7.50 to $9 in 2017, with annual $1 increases up to $12 in 2020, and annual cost-of-living increases thereafter; and do you want to raise the direct wage for service workers who receive tips from half the minimum wage to $5 in 2017, with annual $1 increases until it reaches the adjusted minimum wage?”

It is common knowledge that the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation. We all know that it needs to be increased, but by how much, how fast, who is covered and how are future raises to handled? The answer to these questions should determine how you vote. (Note: Question 4 does not affect this company because all our employees now earn more than what the minimum will be in 2020.) For the many Maine businesses and employees who will be affected, this proposal will cause serious hardships and dislocations. A combination of price increases and layoffs may have to be adopted. Changing the wage for restaurant workers will change the whole dynamic of pay and the relationship of these workers to their customers and employers in ways that could actually reduce their take-home pay. Indexing future increases to cost of living is a Pandora’s box of problems. What happens if the cost of living decreases as happens during recessions and depressions? Will the wage be reduced? That action would be really difficult for all to swallow.

So, on balance, we recognize the need for increases, but think that this proposal goes too far, too fast, with too many potential long-term problems. We recommend a NO vote with the hope that a better proposal will come forward soon.

Question 5: Ranked choice voting

“Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?”

This concept has been used with great success, most notably in Portland mayoral contests. Since it is new to this area, we recommend that you carefully read the explanation in our Election Primer in this issue. Note that you cast one ballot, ranking your choices for as many candidates on the ballot for each office as you chose. There are two other main benefits to this measure.

The ranked choice voting, also know as instant runoff voting, insures that whoever is elected is a consensus choice of a majority of the voters in that election. That means the officeholder will have a mandate. With our diverse political culture in the state, there have been too many elections that put a candidate into office who was opposed by a majority of the voters and therefore was without a mandate.

We are all too aware of the lack of civility in our elections these days. With ranked choice voting there is disincentive to criticize and take cheap shots at opponents so as not to lose votes from their supporters in the instant runoff rankings. This angling for votes in the ranking process by the candidates diminishes negativity about other candidates.

We think this is a creative and needed reform to get our election politics positive again. We strongly recommend a YES vote.

Question 6: Bond Issue for transportation infrastructure

“Do you favor a $100,000,000 bond issue for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities, equipment and property acquisition related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds?”

With interest rates continuing at all-time lows and the state’s transportation infrastructure declining faster than it is being updated, this is a simple and needed bond issue. Enough said. We strongly recommend a YES vote.

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