Five referendum questions to appear on Nov. 6 ballot

11 years ago

 Question 1

By Joseph Cyr

Staff Writer

    For the second time in three years, voters are being asked to cast their vote on whether they support same-sex marriages in the state.

Question 1 on the November ballot is a citizens’ initiative that reads “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”

A “yes” vote will legalize same-sex marriages in the state, while a “no” vote will continue the state’s current stand on the subject.

Few questions have sparked as much debate as the same-sex marriage proposal. A bill allowing same sex marriages in the state was signed into law on May 6, 2009 by then-Governor John Baldacci, after it passed through the state legislature.

According to the Maine Legislature roll call at that time, most of the Aroostook County delegates in the Maine Senate and House of Representatives opposed the enactment of the bill. Senators Troy Jackson (Allagash) and Roger Sherman (Houlton) both voted “no” on the final bill, while in the House, Representatives Bernard Ayotte (Caswell), Tyler Clark (Easton), Peter Edgecomb (Caribou), Charles Theriault (Madawaska) and Michael Willette (Presque Isle) all voted “no” on the bill.

Only Reps. Richard Cleary (Houlton) and Patricia Sutherland (Chapman) voted “yes.”

Before that measure could ever be enacted, however, opponents successfully filed a citizens’ petition seeking a public referendum to decide the matter. At the Nov. 3, 2009 polls, the state voted 300,848 (52.9 percent) in favor of repealing the law, while 267,828 (47.1 percent) opposed its repeal

Fast forward three years and the question is back in front of voters once again.

The same-sex marriage issue has sparked numerous debates nationwide. In 1996, the federal government enacted “the Defense of Marriage Act,” which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allows each state to refuse to recognize those marriages performed in states other than their own.

Since 2004, six states — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont — the District of Columbia and two Native American tribal jurisdictions have legalized same-sex marriage.

Supporters of Question 1 state they are merely looking for equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation.

“Opponents of the freedom to marry continue to wrongly argue that domestic partnerships or civil unions are a legitimate substitute for marriage. They are not,” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage. “The word ‘marriage’ carries profound personal meaning for the couples and for others who instantly grasp its significance. Everyone knows what it means to be ‘married’ legally.”

Maine does not have civil unions. Maine has a domestic partnership registry, which can provide limited protection for same-sex couples in matters of probate.

Paul and Jeanette Rediker of Fort Fairfield have been featured in “Yes on 1” commercials seen throughout the state. In their commercial, the Redikers revealed one of their daughters was gay, which was difficult for them at first. But after consultation with a priest, who told them she was “the same person you loved yesterday,” the Redikers had a change of heart about same-sex marriages.

“I would be very happy if my oldest daughter could get married at home,” Jeanette said.

Opponents to Question 1 counter that if the law is approved, the foundation of marriage will be forever changed. According to the website, “While same-sex couples in Maine already enjoy full legal rights, gay marriage activists are not satisfied. They have continued to organize, raise money and mislead voters into believing we can remove the very fabric of society — marriage — and nothing bad will happen. Unfortunately, when marriage is redefined there are significant consequences to individuals, small businesses, churches, couples and especially to children.

“The 2012 campaign will be about the importance of marriage and the consequences to society if marriage is redefined. It is about educating voters that traditional marriage has served society well for thousands of years, and it is vital that we maintain marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Question 2

By Scott Mitchell Johnson

Staff Writer

    According to John Rebar, executive director of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, passage of Question 2 on the Nov. 6 ballot would benefit the entire state.

Question 2 asks, “Do you favor an $11,300,000 bond issue to provide funds for capital to build a diagnostic facility for the University of Maine System; for capital improvements and equipment, including machine tool technology, for the Maine Community College System; and for capital improvements and equipment at the Maine Maritime Academy?”

Of the $11.3 million bond, $7.8 million is earmarked for a new animal and plant diagnostic facility at the University of Maine. The proposed 18,000-square-foot building would feature designated areas for animal and plant diagnostic testing and research, an attached greenhouse, a large animal autopsy room and a secure waste disposal system. The new facility, which has the potential to generate 800 jobs in both agricultural and scientific fields, will protect agricultural jobs from the serious economic threats of plant and animal disease, food-borne illness, and invasive species.

“What we’re trying to emphasize is that passage of this bond will build, create and protect Maine jobs,” said Rebar. “For example, in Aroostook County, we use a lot of our diagnostic capabilities to support the potato industry, as well as other sectors of the agricultural economy including the wild blueberry, dairy, and the growing cheese industries.

“The challenge we have is that we have very outdated facilities that were built in the 1940s and ‘50s and they need to be updated,” he said. “We’ve outgrown their capacity, and we don’t have the kind of bio-security that we need when you’re dealing with potentially infectious agents or trying to quarantine the diseases. Right now we don’t have that bio-secure location.”

Rebar said construction of a new diagnostic facility that monitors and addresses serious threats like late blight, E. Coli, ticks and bedbugs will “ensure the stability of key Maine industries and protect the livelihood of those who work in and depend on these sectors of the state’s economy.”

“The new diagnostic facility will enable the state to retain and expand the jobs of Maine people who study and work to eradicate threats to our agricultural economy and public health,” he said.

Because there is no organized opposition to Question 2, Rebar said the bond issue “hasn’t risen to wide attention.”

“You’re not going to see a large television campaign,” he said, “we’re doing what we can to create public awareness to have an informed electorate when they go vote Nov. 6. Question 2 is not just about building something at the university or at the community colleges; it’s about an investment in Maine’s future.”

Question 3

By Kathy McCarty

Staff Writer

    Preserving land for public use and improving habitat for wildlife are the focus of Question 3, which voters will have the option of approving or denying on the Nov. 6 ballot. The bond issue reads: “Do you favor a $5,000,000 bond issue to purchase land and conservation easements statewide from willing sellers for public land and water access, conservation, wildlife or fish habitat and outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing and deer wintering areas, and to preserve working farmland and working waterfronts to be matched by at least $5,000,000 in private and public contributions?”

If approved, disbursement of proceeds of the bond must be expended as set out in the Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Support Maine’s Natural Resource-based Economy (Public Law, Chapter 696), under the direction and supervision of the Department of Conservation.

Bond proceeds for the Land for Maine’s Future Board, as set out in Section 6, must be expended by the DOC, with public access of acquired property guaranteed. Hunting, fishing, trapping and public access may not be prohibited on land acquired with bond proceeds, except to the extent of applicable state, local or federal laws, rules and regulations and except for working waterfront projects and farmland protection projects.

Payment from bond proceeds for acquisitions of local or regional significance, as determined by the LMFB, may be made directly to cooperating entities as defined in Title 5, Section 6201, Subsection 2 for acquisition of land and interest in land by cooperating entities, subject to terms and conditions enforceable by the state to ensure its use for the purpose of this Act. In addition to the considerations required under Title 5, Chapter 353, the board gives preference to acquisitions under this paragraph that achieve benefits for multiple towns and that address regional conservation needs including public recreational access, wildlife, open space and farmland.

The bond funds expended for conservation, recreation, farmland and water access must be matched with at least $5 million in public and private contributions. Seventy percent of that amount must be in the form of cash or other tangible assets, including the value of land and real property interest acquired by or contributed to cooperating entities, as defined in Title 5, Section 6201, Subsection 2, when property interests have a direct relationship to the property proposed for protection, as determined by the LMFB. The remaining 30 percent may be matching contributions and may include the value of project-related, in-kind contributions of goods and services to and by cooperating entities.

Because portions of the state have deer populations that are struggling and deer wintering habitat protection is vital to the survival and enhancement of these populations, projects that conserve and protect deer wintering areas are considered to have special value and must receive preferential consideration during scoring of new applications for support under Title 5, Section 6200.

To the extent the purposes are consistent with the disbursement provisions in this Act, 100 percent of the bond proceeds may be considered as state match for any federal funding to be made available to the state.

Question 4

By Lisa Wilcox

Staff Writer

    Maine voters will decide five referendum questions on the Nov. 6 ballot. Referendum Question 4 reads: “Do you favor a $51,500,000 bond issue for improvements to highways and bridges, local roads, airports and port facilities, as well as for funds for rail access, transit buses and the LifeFlight Foundation, which will make the state eligible for at least $105,600,000 in federal and other matching funds?”

Based on information obtained from the Secretary of State’s Guide to the Referendum Election, the League of Women Voters Voter Guide and the non-partisan website Project Vote Smart, this act would authorize the state to issue bonds in an amount not to exceed $51,500,000 to raise funds for many projects. The bonds would run for no longer than 10 years from the date of issue and would be backed by the state.

Proceeds from the sale of these bonds would be administered by the Department of Transportation for the following purposes:

• Highways and bridges. The bulk of the funds, $41 million, would be used to repair and reconstruct highways and bridges deemed vital to expansion of business interests and essential to public safety. It is anticipated that this would make the state eligible for at least $72 million in federal matching funds.

The act requires the DOT to consult with the business and economic development sector in order to determine projects of the highest priority to that sector. In addition, a stakeholder group of municipal officials, highway safety officials and members of the general public must be formed to develop a priority list of highway and bridge projects to address the safety of the general public.

A recent amendment to existing law also provides a system by which the department is required to establish priorities, customer service levels and goals for capital improvements to the state’s public highways.

• Medical helicopter service. LifeFlight Foundation, which provides a medical helicopter service that transports critically ill and injured patients to hospitals statewide, would receive $300,0000 to install a network of automated weather observation stations as well as to construct helicopter landing pads located in remote areas and in rural communities with high levels of usage. These funds would be matched by $300,000 in funding from local governmental sources.

• Port facilities. Three million dollars would be spent to dredge the commercial shipping channel in Searsport, which serves the existing port operation at Mack Point. It is expected that this funding would make the state eligible for $10 million in federal funds through the Army Corps of Engineers.

An additional $2 million would support the purchase of material handling equipment for use at Mack Point. This funding would be matched by an equivalent investment by private entities.

Another $1.5 million in bond proceeds would be used for construction of warehouse facilities at the port of Eastport, which is owned and operated by the Eastport Port Authority.

• Bus service. One million dollars would be used to help purchase new transit buses operated by governmental entities located across the state. It is expected that these funds would secure approximately $9 million in federal funding through the Federal Transit Administration.

• Industrial rail service. One and a half million dollars would support the Industrial Rail Access Program, which is an existing DOT program that provides 50 percent matching grants to private businesses for improvements necessary to increase freight transportation by rail. Because these are matching grants, this funding would trigger an additional one and a half million dollars in private investment.

• Aviation facilities. One million two hundred thousand dollars would support projects at publicly-owned aviation facilities across the state. This funding is expected to be matched by $10,800,000 in federal funds administered by the Federal Aviation Administration.

If Question 4 is approved, the authorization of these bonds would take effect 30 days after the governor‘s proclamation of the vote.

According to figures compiled by the Office of the Treasurer, the total estimated lifetime cost of borrowing this amount of money is $64,246,250, representing $51.5 million in principal and $12,746,250 in interest, assuming 4.5 percent over 10 years.

A “yes” vote favors the issuance of up to $51,500,000 in general obligation bonds to finance these projects. A “no” vote opposes the bond issue in its entirety.

Arguments for a “yes” vote include: use of bond funds could result in jobs and may help economic growth in the state of Maine; this bond could improve public safety; and the federal government will help pay for the work. It will give Maine $105 million more.

Arguments for a “no” vote include: it would add $51 million to Maine’s debt; and other projects may be more worthy of the state’s money.

No public comments in support of or against the referendum had been filed at presstime.

Question 5

By Natalie Bazinet

Staff Writer

    At the bottom of their referendum question ballot, Mainers will have the option to vote yes or no on a $7.9 million bond that will replenish the revolving loan fund for public drinking water systems and for wastewater treatment facilities.

Formally, Question Five will read “Do you favor a $7,925,000 bond issue to be expended over 2 years for revolving loan funs for drinking water systems and for wastewater treatment facilities, which will make the State eligible to secure $39,625,000 in federal grants?”

It’s no coincidence that the $7.9 million amounts to 20 percent of the potential federal grant funding; according to officials with the Maine Water Utilities Association, Question Five is the 20 percent match needed for the 2012 -13 State Revolving Fund Capitalization Grants.

The $7.9 million bond actually allocates funds for two separate revolving loan funds — $3,590,000 for the Department of Health and Human Services over two years for the revolving loan fund for drinking water systems, and $4,335,000 for the Department of Environmental Protection over two years for the revolving loan fund for wastewater treatment facilities.

These programs allow for departments and utility districts to apply for loans that fund wastewater or drinking water facility improvements and upgrades.

This summer, for example, the Caribou Utilities Department completed a water main replacement project that was funded by a loan from the State Revolving Loan Fund (SRLF), through the Maine Drinking Water Program which is through DHHS.

“The pipe we replaced on High Street, at least part of it, was some of the original water pipe that was place in Caribou in 1889,” explained Caribou Utilities District General Manager Alan Hitchcock.

By utilizing the loan fund, the district was able to obtain a loan at approximately 1 percent.

Hitchcock explained that had they not been able to access a low-interest loan through the SRLF, the district would have had to borrow through conventional borrowing with much higher interest rates.

Having borrowed $431,420 for the project at an approximate 1 percent interest with a 20-year payback period, the water main replacement will cost roughly $501,233.

“The project was crucial,” Hitchcock explained. “It’s a fairly high density commercial area,” he said, explaining the structures that line the street include a supermarket, the fire department, a bank, the library, Caribou’s municipal building and a gas station, as well as various shops, stores and residences.

“It is important that we replace infrastructure on a regular schedule, and the ability of districts to borrow from the revolving loan fund allows us to do this at a lower cost than if we had to borrow commercially — and that’s reflected in the rates we charge to our customers,” Hitchcock explained. “If we had to borrow at higher rates, our customers would have to pay more in our rates.”

“The bond issue allows replacement while keeping rates as low as possible,” he added.

In neighboring city Presque Isle, the Superintendent of the Presque Isle Water District Steve Freeman explained that his district was able to obtain SRLF funding for a project they completed this summer as well, a reconstruction project on South Main Street right in front of the University of Maine at Presque Isle campus that utilized both water and sewer loan funding.

Though the final cost of the project was less than anticipated, the district originally secured about $100,000 for wastewater improvements and $686,000 for drinking water improvements — loans that were secured with a very low rate of approximately 1 percent.

“It’s almost 2 percent below the market rate, so it’s a good time to do projects if you have projects to do,” Freeman explained, adding that one section replaced through the project was older than 1910.