Student groups are gearing up for what could be a close vote on the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR), a referendum issue on the Nov. 7 ballot.
If approved, the referendum would set strict limits on tax and spending increases at the municipal level that could only be waived with a two-thirds city or town council majority, and then by a simple majority of the public. The language of TABOR also indicates that the state would be bound by these limits, though an analysis by the attorney general has determined that it does not apply at this level.
Proponents of the referendum say that if passed, it would curb rampant taxation in a state where tax burden as a percentage of income was the highest of any state in 2005, according to the Taxpayers Network, a nonprofit organization.
Opponents cite a similar bill's impact in Colorado, where they say it has crippled the state's higher education system and reduced other government services.
At Bowdoin, liberal student groups, spearheaded by the Bowdoin College Democrats (BCD), have formed the Anti-Tabor Coalition to help prevent the bill's passage.
"The most important thing is to inform [students] about what happened in Colorado," said Darren Fishell '09, communications director of BCD.
"There are just a few key points, and if students understand those, they can make a confident decision," he said.
According to Sam Minot '08, co-chair of the Democratic Left, another reason to oppose TABOR is its national significance. TABOR-like initiatives have been proposed in at least five other states, and a similar measure is pending in Oregon.
"This is really a national thing," Minot said. "If this were successful here, I'd really worry for public education and the environment across the country."
As far as TABOR's impact on Bowdoin, if passed, it appears that any effects would be indirect.
Steve Joyce, director of student aid, said in an email that Bowdoin's student aid sources would be unaffected.
"I don't imagine passage of TABOR will impact Bowdoin students much," he said.
"Our state grant program is funded in large part by sources outside the tax system, so I expect state grants to be insulated from this."
Robert Frank, a partner at the Portland law firm Harvey and Frank who has researched the issue extensively but is not affiliated with either side, also said that the direct impact of TABOR on Bowdoin would probably be minimal.
"The effect of TABOR [on Bowdoin] I think would be fairly attenuated. The effects of TABOR are really at the municipal level," he said.
However, Frank continued, "to the extent that the College depends on the town, it could have a secondary impact." Frank cited snowplowing as an example of a service that could be affected if the bill was passed.
In addition to the Anti-TABOR Coalition's work at Bowdoin, other student political groups across the state have been working to prevent the bill's passage.
According to Alec Maybaruk, statewide field director for the liberal group the League of Pissed-Off Voters, there are campaigns against TABOR at six college and university campuses in Maine, both public and private.
"Both private and public students are coming together in what is essentially a movement to protect higher education and to protect student aid," Maybaruk said. "Because what we all know from the experience in Colorado is that one of the first things TABOR is going to take out is higher education."
Maybaruk added that students have the potential to swing the vote on TABOR.
"When we run the numbers, somewhere between 1.5 and 3 percent of the total vote on this issue is going to come from college campuses," he said.
Zachary Linhart '07, co-president of the Bowdoin College Republicans, said that his group was not focusing on TABOR, though it does support it. He said there is no coordinated statewide campaign on the issue by similar groups.
"The state of Maine hasn't been doing so well economically: The government has been spending way too much, people have been taxed too much," said Linhart.
"I don't think TABOR is 100 percent perfect," he added, "and I don't think any piece of legislation is perfect, but I do think it's a step in the right direction to reducing the burden on the people of Maine."
"This is their issue," Linhart said, referring to the BCD. "We tend to not base who we vote for and what we think on a single issue. We try to do what's best for the state or country."