Voter’s Quick Guide to the Nov. 7 Referendum Election

By Sarah Craighead 

Dedmon

 

On Tuesday, Nov. 7 Maine voters will go to the polls to cast their vote on four ballot measures. Unregistered voters may register to vote right up until they vote on election day. Two of this year’s questions are citizen initiatives, which means they came to the ballot by way of petition, a process permitted in only 23 other states.

For additional information, visit www.maine.gov and search for the Maine Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election.

Gambling in York County

Question 1 is a citizen’s initiative titled “An Act To Allow Slot Machines or a Casino in York County”. The ballot question will read, “Do you want to allow a certain company to operate table games and/or slot machines in York County, subject to state and local approval, with part of the profits going to the specific programs described in the initiative?” 

The “certain company” referred to in the question is Capital Seven LLC, which is a limited liability company formed in Nevada and owned by real estate developer Shawn Scott. Scott is from California and previously owned, among other things, a controlling interest in Bangor Historic Track, which enables him to qualify for this license under the terms of the act.

The legislation stipulates that one percent of the slot machines gross income will go to the Maine General Fund, and 39 percent of their net income will funnel to various Maine departments through the Other Special Revenues Fund. The State estimates that the casino could generate $7.2 million annually for the general fund, and roughly $25 million for the Other Special Revenues Fund.

A “yes” vote in favor of Question 1 will authorize Scott’s company to seek municipal approval to construct a casino or place slot machines somewhere within York County. A “no” vote will end the act’s progress and deny Capital Seven LLC and Scott the right to proceed with casino development.

Medicaid/MaineCare expansion

Question 2 is also a citizen’s initiative, titled “An Act To Enhance Access to Affordable Health Care.” The ballot question will read, “Do you want Maine to expand Medicaid to provide healthcare coverage for qualified adults under age 65 with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level, which in 2017 means $16,643 for a single person and $22,412 for a family of two?”

As part of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, coverage for adults under 65 was expanded to include adults earning between 101 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level. However, in 2012 courts ruled that the federal government could not force the states to expand their Medicaid coverage into this population bracket. Maine chose not to expand, as did 18 other states.

The federal government will ultimately cover 90 percent of the costs associated with the expansion, and the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review estimates the state’s costs associated with Mainecare/Medicaid expansion to come to $54.5 million.  Governor LePage has vetoed the expansion five times. The federal government’s portion of the costs would be $525 million. Roughly 77,000 Mainers could receive coverage under the expansion.

A “yes” vote is a vote to enact the initiated legislation. A “no” vote opposes the initiated legislation.

Infrastructure bond

Question 3 is a bond issue titled “An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Improve Highways, Bridges and Multimodal Facilities and Upgrade Municipal Culverts.” The ballot question will read, “Do you favor a $105,000,000 bond issue for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities or equipment 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, and for the upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings?”

According to the Maine Department of the Secretary of State, the bonds would give the state $80 million to construct, reconstruct or rehabilitate state highways, secondary roads in conjunction with municipalities, and to replace or rehabilitate bridges. Another $20 million would be spent on projects related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, aviation, railroads (both passenger and freight), public transportation and bicycle and pedestrian trails. The remaining $5 million would be administered by the Department of Environmental Protection as a competitive grant program to upgrade or replace municipal culverts at stream crossings in order to improve fish and wildlife habitats, reduce flood hazards and improve stormwater management. The total estimated cost of the bonds is estimated to be approximately $134 million, including $105 million in bonds, and $29 million in interest over 10 years.

A “yes” vote approves the issuance of $105 million in bonds. A “no” vote disapproves the bond issue in its entirety.

State pensions

Question 4 “RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Reduce Volatility in State Pension Funding Requirements Caused by the Financial Markets”. The ballot question will read, “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to reduce volatility in state pension funding requirements caused by the financial markets by increasing the length of time over which experience losses are amortized from 10 years to 20 years, in line with pension industry standards?”

Maine’s constitution requires the state to fund the Maine Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) that provides retirement benefits to all state employees and public school teachers. Should a net loss in the PERS investments occur, then the constitution stipulates that those losses must be paid back to the fund from the state budget. Currently, those losses must be paid back over 10 years under a constitutional amendment adopted in 1995.

According to the Maine Department of the Secretary of State, in 1995 PERS was funded by the state at a much lower level, and responding to losses today within 10 years creates a more significant impact on the state budget.  “The change in the amortization period from 10 to 20 years is thus intended to smooth out the effects of volatility in the marketplace in a manner that is consistent with accepted actuarial practices,” stated the Maine Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election.

A “yes” vote signals approval to adopt the constitutional amendment. A “no” vote opposes adoption of the constitutional amendment.