What will Maine voters choose?

By Stephen Bowen | Oct 10, 2009

Maine voters get to play lawmaker on Election Day this year, with the November ballot giving them the opportunity to decide state policy on everything from gay marriage and medical marijuana to school district consolidation and tax policy. In all, five referendum questions will face voters, along with a bond issue and a proposed constitutional amendment.

It is rare for voters to have so many public policy questions to decide, and it is anyone’s guess which way they will go. Maine voters, history would seem to indicate, can sometimes be inconsistent in their voting.

Take last year, for instance. Maine voters went to the polls last November and overwhelmingly rejected a tax package the Legislature had enacted to fund the ongoing boondoggle that is the Dirigo Health program. That same day, though, they gave the Democrats in the Legislature, who passed the tax package in the first place, larger majorities in both the Maine House and Senate.

Mainers, in other words, rejected the tax hike, but re-elected the tax hikers. In response, Democratic legislators went back to Augusta and promptly enacted a tax on health insurance claims to pay for Dirigo instead.

Is this what Maine voters wanted?

The inconsistent message voters seem to be sending shows up in polling data, too. In May, the Portland-based polling firm Critical Insights released its spring tracking survey, which found that six out of ten Mainers feel the state is on the “wrong track.” Only 34 percent agreed that Maine was “headed in the right direction.”

Mainers have evidently felt this way for some time. According to a spring 2009 poll by PanAtlantic SMS, a majority of Mainers have thought the state to be on the wrong track since 2003. Despite this, the people who put us on the track we’re on, the Democrats who have run the state for years, continue to be re-elected.

What gives?

The perception that the state is on the wrong track is, of course, dead on. Look at how Maine has been discussed, if it has been discussed at all, in the national media over the past few weeks.

In August, a Wall Street Journal editorial on the aforementioned Dirigo Health described the troubled state program as “an expensive, failed experiment in government-run health care.” Investor’s Business Daily chimed in only days ago, saying that the name “Dirigo,“ taken from the state’s motto “I lead,” is fitting. “This failed attempt at government health care,” the paper opined, “has led its people right off a cliff.”

In late September, new Census Bureau data revealed that Maine was number two in the nation in the percentage of its population on welfare, and number two in the nation in the percentage of its people on food stamps. Maine is far from being the poorest state, ranking 27th in the percent of people below the poverty line, but the level of dependence on government found here in Maine is through the roof.

Which state is it again that made its people wealthy and prosperous by putting as many of them as possible on government welfare programs?

Then there was the recent report from Forbes Magazine that listed Maine as being the 41st most business-friendly state in the nation. Earlier this year, CNBC rated Maine 40th for business, with the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council ranking the state 48th.

There are states on the right track, of course, states like Colorado.

Forbes ranked Colorado the third best state in the nation for businesses, as did CNBC. Median family income in Colorado is about $57,000, according to the Census Bureau, good enough for 14th in the nation. The $46,500 the average Maine family earns puts the Pine Tree State 37th in the nation by comparison.

As a result of its prosperity, Colorado has fewer people in poverty. The state has 5.1 percent of its population on food stamps, compared with 13.8 percent in Maine, 1.8 percent of its population on welfare, compared with 4.8 percent in Maine, and 11 percent of its under-65 population on Medicaid, compared with 23 percent in Maine, home of the nation’s highest rate of Medicaid enrollment.

Coloradans pay 9.5 percent of their average annual income in state and local taxes, which ranks them 46th nationally, whereas Mainers pay 14 percent of their incomes in taxes, putting the state fourth highest in the nation. Colorado has lower income taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, and excise taxes, and has lower property taxes as well.

Maine voters should know that Colorado was not always the highly prosperous, low-tax state it is today. Before Colorado enacted its own Taxpayer Bill of Rights in 1992, it too suffered from the runaway government spending and high taxes that are a way of life in Maine today. Since then, though, tax burdens in Colorado have plunged and median household incomes for Coloradans leaped from 29th in the nation in 1989 to seventh in the nation in 2002.

Maine’s per capita personal income was 35th in the nation in 1992, and is 35th today. How’s that for progress?

So the November ballot will be a test for Maine voters. The vast majority of them feel the state is on the wrong track. They have a chance, by passing the Question 4 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, to set the state on a new course. Or they can vote no, and keep Maine headed on the same course it has been headed on for years, a course of limited prosperity, high taxes and ever-expanding government.

Which way will Maine voters go?
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