The many facets of TABOR II

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October 7, 2009

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Maine's TABOR II is one complex issue and not because of the form in which the ballot question is phrased but because of the many angles at which the issue is discussed. There's debate about: the comparisons to Colorado's TABOR, the impact on local government, the impact on education, how much government spending should exist and more. The list goes on. Yesterday, we featured an interview with Christopher St. John of the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP), which opposes both TABOR and the auto excise tax repeal, but today I had a chance to hear arguments from both the opposition and the supporters.

The Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce featured a forum specific to Maine's Question 4. The panel consisted of Steve Bowen from the Maine Heritage Policy Center; Rep. Jim Martin; Sen. Carol Weston; and Christopher St. John of MECEP.

Opponents, including St. John and Rep. Martin, argue that Colorado is indicative of what Maine will face should TABOR II be approved by voters in November 2009. Both attribute Colorado's prosperity, after the approval of TABOR, to its geographical location and pointed to the fact that Colorado experienced slower growth than their neighboring mountain states.

In 2005 Colorado voters approved suspending TABOR for a 5 year period. St. John argues that the suspension and continued movement towards removing TABOR speaks loudly of what Colorado residents think of the limit on government spending. However, Bowen argues that while 2005 suspension of TABOR is only temporary and an extension of the suspension was rejected in 2008, that is not what is important. What is important, he said, is that "the people of Colorado decided." Bowen notes that placing the decision to restrict or increase government spending is what TABOR II is about. "Who decides how fast government grows? How fast tax rate grows? In Colorado they decided to suspend it in order to do highway projects, they decided to do that. But those questions go out to the voters of Colorado and they are going to get those tax rebates back and maybe sometime in the future they will decide they want to do something else. But the important point is, who decides. In Colorado the Colorado voter decides."

However, Rep. Martin argued that the state of Maine already has a limit on government spending known as LD 1, a spending limits cap. LD 1 was approved in 2005 by the Maine Legislature. "Since LD 1 has passed we have lived within those limitations. We have reduced spending. And I think that is a good step in the right direction," said Martin. However, Sen. Weston noted that, from personal experience on the Senate, LD 1 has been easily circumvented by lawmakers when establishing the budget. LD 1, said Bowen, allows for "government to grow as fast as incomes grow." However, St. John argued that while that may be the case, Maine's government spending has increased by less than 1% in the last few years. "Yes, spending is down, but only because they don't have the money," said Bowen.

St. John noted that in addition to LD 1, most Maine towns have town meetings where residents can voice their opinions on the budget. Bowen said town meetings simply "don't work." But Martin argued that that is also what representative government is for, to sort through the issues and represent the people. "It doesn't mean I don't trust the voters to make those decisions, it means that they entrusted me to go to Augusta and represent them to the best of my ability. And that's what I have tried to do. And I think that TABOR takes that process away," said Martin. Sen. Weston, however, said that "the people do not want to reign in on every single bill. They don't want to know sometimes, some of the bills. What they want is an overall understanding with their legislators. That has not happened. And that's why TABOR is here before them again. They want to know that you are not going to spend faster than I can earn it. That's what this is."

Next week the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce plans to make a final decision of whether or not to take a position on Question 2, auto excise tax repeal, and Question 4, TABOR II.

Stay tuned for more TABOR II news tomorrow!

See also