Republicans deride voters, defend wealthy in attempt to undermine homecare referendum

More than a dozen Republican House members spoke on Thursday, delaying a routine motion to send the citizen initiatve that would guarantee access to in-home care for seniors and Mainers with disabilities out to voters. The motion was eventually passed on a party-line vote.

Several Republicans expressed broad concerns about the referendum process itself, saying it’s an affront to them as legislators.

“Is this the way we want to pass legislation, by citizen referendum? And if so, why are we here? Why don’t we just circulate signatures and ask ‘do you want to do away with the legislature?'” asked Rep. Karen Vachon of Scarborough. “People do not know what they are voting for. I know I will be spoken to by some who will tell me that I have insulted their intelligence. So be it.”

“There may come a time, technology may allow it to happen, when some of the younger people in this chamber today may be able to sit home on some kind of electronic device and we could do away with this entire body, we could shut this building down, we could turn it into a museum,” said Rep. Thomas Skolfield of Wells. “I hope that day never occurs.”

Rep. Roger Reed complained that the 65,000 Maine voters who signed petitions were “circumnavigating around the duly elected officials by the referendum process.”

The attempt by Republicans to send the measure to the Taxation Committee would have allowed for further legislative interference with the referendum, including a potential opportunity to send a competing measure to the ballot.

The initiative, which is designed to allow seniors and Mainers with disabilities to access care needed to stay in their own homes, is funded by partially closing a payroll tax loophole that only benefits those making more than $128,400 a year. The tax change was attacked by Republicans in often hyperbolic language.

Rep. Lance Harvell defended “the 1% and the rich,” saying “We give criminals trials before we sentence them. Why can’t we give law-abiding taxpayers the right to a hearing before their pockets are picked?”

“It is a page out of some manifesto to create class warfare in this state by causing more division between the wealthy and the poor,” said Reed. “How can anyone feel good about selecting out a certain group in our state that makes more money than we do and just up and lay a tax on them?”

Democrats, who voted unanimously to send the referendum to voters, have generally been supportive of increased access to in-home care.

“Our seniors, veterans and people with disabilities all deserve better,” said Senate Democratic leader Troy Jackson in a recent statement. “They need a guarantee that they can have the freedom to stay in their own homes, without their family going bankrupt. I’m glad the voters will finally get their say.”

The measure will likely face additional votes in the House in coming days.

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