How many times will Gov. LePage ignore the will of Maine voters and get away with it?
The referendum process is the most direct way that citizens can participate in the governing process, by literally passing laws at the ballot box. There is no clearer way for Maine citizens to express their will. Yet the Governor and his friends in the legislature seem to be a little hard of hearing when it comes to the will of the people if it happens to disagree with their own ideological agenda.
A few examples:
In 2003 the people of Maine passed a referendum requiring the state government to fund public education at a stable rate of 55% every year. The purpose of this was to insulate our schools, and our property taxes, from political wrangling in Augusta. The state increased funding steadily with a goal of hitting 55% by 2010, but 2010 was of course the year Governor LePage was elected. Since 2010, state funding of education has steadily declined in direct opposition to the law passed by Maine citizens. LePage has flatly stated that the 55% mandate will not be met. Ironically, this referendum passed to protect education funding from political maneuvering has itself fallen victim to political maneuvering.
Meanwhile, citizens shoulder higher property tax burdens while schools struggle to continue to deliver quality education with fewer and fewer resources. Now the citizens of Maine have gone through the trouble to gather another 60,000 signatures to put another referendum on the ballot that proposes to specify and mandate a funding source for the 55%. Unfortunately, it appears that the people of Maine have to really spell it out for Governor LePage and his allies in the state legislature to respect their will.
The Clean Elections referendum that passed handily last November attempted to avoid the bother of having to pass two referendums just to get the first one obeyed by including a funding source. It very specifically and clearly stated that the additional money needed to fund the strengthening of the Clean Elections system mandated by the referendum would come from eliminating inefficient corporate tax loopholes. Yet somehow Republican lawmakers are having trouble finding any tax loopholes to close in our loophole-riddled tax system. They also seem to be struggling with accepting that a majority vote is a majority vote.
And let’s not forget the bonds. In 2010 and 2012 Maine voters approved a total of $11.5 million in bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future program. This is a very popular program that leverages public and private funds to preserve land all over Maine for a variety of uses, from working waterfronts to recreation to conservation. Yet, citing a technicality in the law, LePage refused to actually issue the bonds for years, putting multiple projects in jeopardy in direct violation of the will of the voters. Why? In order to attempt to blackmail legislators into passing completely unrelated legislation he favored. This has proven so politically unpopular that the legislature has unanimously passed legislation to force the release of the bonds over his head. On this one issue, at least, Republican lawmakers knew better than to stand by their Governor.
Unfortunately, we now have the exact same scenario playing out with the senior housing bond which passed by a resounding 70% just this past November. LePage has been coyly dragging his heels and inventing circular reasons not to release these funds that the Maine people have mandated be used to provide safe housing for low-income seniors. It would be hard to imagine a more vulnerable group or a more clear mandate. Yet LePage and his ally, Peter Anastos of the Maine State Housing Authority, continue to blithely ignore the will of the voters while Maine seniors suffer the consequences.
The Governor and his political allies somehow don’t seem to understand or care that a referendum is not just a suggestion from the people of Maine, but a binding law that they must follow. They seem to think that if they don’t agree with the will of the Maine people, they can just ignore it. Perhaps it’s time they heard from Maine people to remind them that they are breaking our laws.
Photo via Andi Parkinson
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