It’s almost over. In just a few days, the awful commercials will stop airing. The lawn signs littering our roadsides and driving suburban moms to crime will be gone.
And, the morning of Nov. 9, we’ll see what government we are left with.
But here’s a post-election prediction: no matter which Bond villain wins the White House, the referendum questions will have a much bigger impact on Mainers than the next president.
So how should those choices shake out? Spoiler: consistency is a virtue.
Question 1 – Marijuana: There is a lot of sense in building a regulatory and tax system to permit adults to use marijuana. Yet — as with every question on the ballot — the devil is in the details.
Whether it was accidental or intentional, the actual legislation underlying this question eliminates any penalties for underage possession of marijuana. And it is a principle of this nation that we don’t have secret penalties — part of “rule of law” means clear, promulgated consequences for committing an illegal act. That is why the statute books spell out penalties for underage drinking.
“We’ll fix it later,” is the retort from supporters. Yet as we saw with the Affordable Care Act, it doesn’t always work that way, and passing laws with well-known mistakes is a recipe for disaster.
Question 2 – Taxes: Every major newspaper in Maine joined with Govs. John Baldacci and Paul LePage to say “no.” Why? Because enacting the second highest tax rate in the country is a poison pill for the oldest state in the nation, a state dependent on attracting new residents. And to care for an aging population, we need more medical professionals. The simple fact is many of them are well paid and can bring their craft anywhere; don’t we want them here?
The emotional appeal to make “the rich” pay their “fair share” is attractive. But the threshold to be a “1 percenter” in Maine is one of the lowest in the nation. New Hampshire’s “rich” make almost $100,000 more a year, while being “rich” in Massachusetts means you make nearly double Maine’s top earners.
Rather than squabble over an ever-shrinking pie, let’s build an economy that creates a lot more jobs at all income levels. To do so, we have to start with saying no to 2.
Question 3 – Gun Checks: There is a reason 13 of 16 Maine sheriffs, along with a retired chief of the Maine State Police, all oppose this proposal. It’s a machete solution to a scalpel problem. Instead of focusing on what the commercials claim is the issue — unlicensed gun sales to criminals — they cast a wide net and capture any “transfer” of a firearm, including a gift to your second cousin or lending a rifle to a friend for hunting.
If you want to crack down on gun sales by unscrupulous, unlicensed dealers, let’s do it — that is a real, common-sense approach we can all get behind. But catching law-abiding Mainers in a snare intended for criminals isn’t the right solution.
Question 4 – Minimum Wage: Waiters and bartenders alike are freaking out about the abolition of the tipped wage; a lot of them make big money under our current system. Maybe proponents of Question 4 are right and they’d be better off without tipping. However, to put that into effect, businesses would need to change their policies and our current law could prevent them from doing so.
But there is also a challenge when it comes to youth employment. Minimum wage hikes generally have negative effects on high schoolers finding their first job. Having worked for minimum wage in the ski school of a Franklin County mountain, I know the resort made a lot of money off me — and that’s okay, because I got work experience.
And as I’ve grown, I now know the economics of ski resorts are challenging before factoring in the weather. Does anyone think the good news of Saddleback’s suitors will be long-lived if they are forced by law to pay 16-year-olds $12 an hour to teach skiing? Or that prices for winter recreation will be attainable for families if labor costs are sharply increased?
The problem proponents are trying to solve is a Gordian knot that implicates wages, the tax code, and safety net programs. In short, it’s complicated and not well-suited to an un-amendable, up-or-down vote.
Question 5 – Ranked Choice Voting: Listen to Attorney General Janet Mills. If we want to change our voting system, fine. But let’s start with amending the Constitution instead of adopting unconstitutional laws.
Yes-or-no ballot questions are a bad way to make law, and the majority of spending in favor of each question is coming from out of state. If these five referenda pass, we’re nearly certain to get more national organizations paying to get items on the ballot, then spending the millions needed to enact them at the ballot box. Which means more commercials, more lawn signs, and more bad policy.
That should make the decision easy. To borrow a line from my youth, “Just Say No” to every referendum; let’s let our representatives fashion solutions to these problems, and let’s tell the out-of-state interests that Maine isn’t the easy target they hope it is.