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Maine issues: the Orient’s guide to 2017 ballot measures

November 3, 2017

Election 2017

The Orient covers the upcoming Maine ballot, looking at referendum issues and how students view them.

Maine issues: the Orient's guide to 2017 ballot measuresNovember 3, 2017Should Bowdoin students register to vote in Maine?November 3, 2017

Q1: Should the Maine Gambling Control Board allow to operation of slot machines or a casino in York County, Maine?

If passed, Question 1 would allow for the creation of a gaming and entertainment venue in York County, the most southwestern county in Maine, which includes the towns of Saco, Kennebunk and Old Orchard Beach, among others. The venue would also contain a convention center.

As the ballot is currently worded, those eligible for a license to operate a casino would only be those who owned more than 51 percent of the commercial horse racing track with pari-mutuel wagering in Penobscot County in 2003. Shawn Scott—who in 2003 created the referendum that lead to Maine’s first casino on the site of Bangor Raceway—was the majority shareholder of the raceway and therefore would be the only person eligible for this license. Scott made $51 million after selling his racetrack to Penn National Gaming Inc.

This casino would be the third casino in the state of Maine: Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway Bangor was opened by Scott in 2003 and Oxford Casino opened in 2002 and is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated.

Who supports Question 1?

Progress for Maine, a political action committee, is spearheading the campaign in support of Question 1 and has raised $9.03 million, $5.92 of which is from Capital Seven, LLC, a company owned by Scott.

The venue is predicted to create 2,165 full-time job positions and 2,767 construction jobs, according to an economic impact study prepared for Progress for Maine by Evans, Carroll & Associates. The same study also stipulates that creating the new venue will increase household earnings by $183.2 million and contribute $42 million in tax revenues in its first year of operation.

Thirty-nine percent of the net slot machine income will be given to the Gambling Control Board for distribution to various programs. Ten percent of the 39 will be given to the Department of Education to supplement programs for kindergarten through high school.

Mike Sherry, a spokesperson for Progress for Maine, affirmed the need to keep tourism dollars in Maine, especially because of a new casino being built in Boston by casino developer Steve Wynn.

“When that happens, we could lose a lot of gaming dollars and tourism dollars to Massachusetts,” said Sherry in a phone interview with the Orient. “Having a Southern casino in York County would be really critical to protecting Maine tax revenues and tourism and keeping those things in Maine.”

Who opposes Question 1?

Governor Paul LePage, Attorney General Janet Mills and State Treasurer Terry Hayes all oppose Question 1.

Political action committee A Bad Deal for Maine is leading the opposition campaign for Question 1.

Allegations that the campaign has hid over $4 million in funding have spurred hearings and questionings by the Maine Ethics Commission. On Wednesday, the commission decided to postpone to Friday its decision on whether or not to fine the campaign. Progress for Maine has spent nearly $9 million in efforts to pass Question 1. If found guilty, the fine could be as high as $4 million—the largest ever by the commission.

If Question 1 is passed, Scott would then go through a process with the state that includes interviews and financial checks in order to obtain a gambling license.

Roy Lenardson, the treasurer of A Bad Deal for Maine PAC, doesn’t deny that building the new venue will bring money and jobs to Maine, yet stipulates that creating the new venue would take jobs from the Oxford County casino.

“You are essentially saying, ‘Okay, we are going to take our Southern Maine Casino that’s in Oxford, decimate that and move those jobs to York county.’ It’s not a win-win because they are in the same market,” said Lenardson in a phone interview with the Orient.

Black Bear Development Company, LLC, which owns the Oxford Casino has also contributed to the opposition campaign.

Q2: Should Maine accept Medicaid expansion as per the conditions of the Affordable Care Act?

Question 2 would extend Medicaid to people under 65 years of age with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

The Maine state legislature has passed Medicaid expansion five times with support from Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike, but Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed it all five times. Supporters of Medicaid expansion ultimately decided to put the question directly before voters through the state’s citizen initiatives process. More than 66,000 signatures from across the state were collected to put Question 2 on the ballot.

Washington, D.C. and 31 other states—a number of which are led by Republican governors—have accepted Medicaid expansion. With increasing debate over healthcare at the national level and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), some have painted Question 2 as a referendum over ACA.

Who supports Question 2?

Mainers for Health Care is a broad coalition of those in favor Question 2 and includes a range of organizations and supporters, encompassing doctors, nurses, other healthcare providers, law enforcement, hospitals, advocates for the elderly and advocates for disabled people. More than 60 organizations have publicly endorsed a “yes” vote on Question 2—the most prominent ones being Maine Center for Economic Policy, Maine Equal Justice Partners and Maine People’s Alliance.

“Question 2 is good for Maine’s economy because it’ll bring in an incredible amount of new dollars into the state which allows for healthier hospitals, particularly in rural areas, and a lot of new jobs,” said David Farmer, a spokesperson for Mainers for HealthCare, in a phone interview with the Orient.

Widespread support for Medicaid expansion from the Maine legislature is in turn reflected in the bipartisan support from public officials who have come out in favor of Question 2. Senator Angus King, former Senator George Mitchell and Attorney General Janet Mills have all voiced support for Question 2. According to Farmer, a number of Republican state officials have similarly declared their support, one of whom who argued that Medicaid expansion was a fiscally conservative position.

Who opposes Question 2?

LePage is an outspoken critic of Question 2 and has claimed that Mainers should not “give free, taxpayer-funded healthcare to adults who should be working” and that Medicaid expansion is “pure welfare” that would put a greater burden on taxpayers. Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and candidate for Governor, has argued that Medicaid expansion will lead to decreased investment in other areas.

Welfare to Work PAC is leading the opposition to Question 2, pointing to the past when the debt has increased and the budget has worsened as reasons why voters should vote against the initiative. Other parties against the initiatives have been less vocal about their opposition. The Maine Republican Party has pointed to President Donald Trump and Congress’s efforts to repeal Obamacare as reasons why the initiative appears to be largely pointless.

Q3: Should Maine approve a $105 million bond issue for transportation infrastructure?

Question 3 proposes issuing a $105 million bond for Maine’s transportation infrastructure. It would devote $80 million to state highways and bridges, $20 million for port, harbors, aviation and trails and $5 million to local governments and municipal commissions.

Passing the measure would also result in an estimated $137 million being passed in federal and matching funds.

Because all but one of the 33 bond issues voted on by Mainers over the course of the last 10 years have passed, there is minimal conflict from either side over Question 3.

Who supports Question 3?

Supporters argue that the bond is needed to improve and develop Maine’s transportation. Both the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel have come out in favor of passing Question 3.

No committees have registered to support Question 3.

Who opposes Question 3?

No committees have registered to oppose Question 3, but opponents to the measure are generally opposed to borrowing to pay for transportation and propose increasing the tax rates on gas and diesel as an alternative.

Q4:  Should Maine increase the number of years required for the state to pay off debts in the pension system?

Question 4 proposes to amend the state constitution to increase the time allowed the state to pay off debts in its pension system. Maine Public Employees Retirement System (MainePERS)—Maine’s only pension system—provides retirement benefits to state employees, such as public school teachers and local and state government officials. In 2016 MainePERS had 61,361 total members and made payments totaling over $977 million. State employees who pay into MainePERS do not pay Social Security deposits and do not receive Social Security payments after retiring.

The amendment seeks to double the time—from 10 to 20 years—that MainePERS has to make up for debts caused by “experience losses,” or volatility in financial markets

What does this mean?

Experience losses occur when the contributions of MainePERS’s funding sources—government contributions, employee contributions and returns on investments—are lower than anticipated, and these losses cause MainePERS to go into debt that, in the current wording of the Constitution, must be repaid in 10 years. This technical change, ultimately, gives MainePERS more time to pay off this debt.

Who supports Question 4?

The amendment received wide support in the state legislature, receiving only four votes in opposition. After passing through the legislature, the amendment must now go to a referendum. Several statewide groups, including the Maine Education Association, the Maine State Employee Association and the Maine Center for Economic Policy, have voiced support for the amendment.

Some supporters argue that the measure would safeguard against placing great financial burden on the state budget in the case of an economic recession, as happened in 2008 and 2009. Pressure on the state to recoup the debts caused by experience losses leads the legislature to make compromises, either on the pensions or in other areas of the budget. According to the Office of the Attorney General, this measure would reduce the financial impact on the annual state budget “by paying back the net losses over a longer period of time.”

Others, such as Mary Anne Turowski, director of politics and legislation of the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989, said that the amendment would help prevent cuts to retirement benefits.

“We support [Question 4] because it will stabilize the retirement system funding, as well as smooth over the ups and downs of market losses. And, in particular, if there’s a significant market loss, as in the 2008 recession, the retirees won’t be targeted for cuts like they were in 2011,” said Turowski in a phone interview with the Orient.

John Kosinski, director of government relations for the Maine Education Association and campaign manager for the association’s “Yes on Question 4” initiative, echoed Turowski in a phone interview with the Orient, calling the amendment a “bipartisan, commonsense” initiative to protect Maine employees.

Who opposes Question 4?

No organized opposition to Question 4 has emerged.

 

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