An End-Run Around Maine Voters
I was surprised to hear about LD 849, a Republican-backed bill that would enforce automatic tax cuts in future budgets similar to the TABOR proposals that have previously been voted on at referendum. The legislation passed the Senate last week and now heads to the House.
I wasn’t surprised that Republicans would support this general kind of idea but I am surprised that they would advance it in this way. Recently, it seems to be a generally acknowledged rule of Maine politics that if an idea is rejected at referendum, future decisions on that issue should also be made by the people in a similar vote.
It was an argument made by conservatives when they attempted a People’s Veto to overturn a law protecting gay people from discrimination in housing, employment and education in 2005 after similar measures had been repeatedly defeated at referendum. More recently, it was an sentiment that seemed to have universal support in the legislature when it came to marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples in Maine. Just weeks ago, both chambers voted unanimously to send the equal marriage law straight to voters. Democratic House Leader Emily Cain even declared that “Democrats believe the people of Maine must decide this question.”
(Just for the record, I don’t necessarily believe that a referendum is the best way to handle an issue of minority rights.)
For some reason, the situation is different for this TABOR proposal, despite similar plans to enact strict future tax and expenditure cutting schemes having been rejected by voters in 2004, 2006 and 2009.
In 2009, the fact that this was a recurring issue that Maine people had already decided was even a major part of the anti-TABOR campaign. A memorable ad showed a TABOR supporter repeatedly showing up at a voter’s door year after year, wearing the same pro-TABOR t-shirt and waving the same pro-TABOR sign. 60% of Mainers voted against the proposal that year, during the same election in which equal marriage rights were also voted down by a smaller margin.
LD 849 isn’t just bad policy because it’s an end-run around the voters, however. It’s also just generally a bad idea. It takes a meat axe approach to state revenues, cutting income taxes across the board by half over time with an automatic ratchet system without taking into account future needs in education, health care and other areas of state responsibility.
It is also highly regressive. As Representative Seth Berry points out in a blog post, the latest analysis from the Maine Revenue Service finds that the bill would give an average tax cut of just $1 to the bottom 20% of income earners while cutting taxes by $21,638 on average for the wealthiest 1%.