Which brings us to the November 8th ballot here in Maine. Let’s take a quick walk through the six ballot questions and see what’s in store for us all.
- Question 1 legalizes recreational marijuana. My 18 year old self loves this idea. My 59 year old self worries that we already have enough problems with addiction, drug abuse and idle youth. The State Chamber Board voted to oppose this Question out of concern that Maine’s brand will be altered for the worse if we become the only state east of the Mississippi River to legalize pot.
- Question 2 raises Maine’s income tax 3% for small businesses and households earning over $200,000 per year, giving us the 2nd highest income tax in the nation. The (hoped for) $157,000,000 this new tax increase will raise is directed to funding teacher salaries and classroom supplies, but cannot be spent on other education priorities like buildings, sports and so forth. If I know one thing about tax policy it’s this – tax the things you want to stop. Like cigarettes – higher taxes stop people from smoking. In this case Question 2 taxes wealth and small business – and higher taxes will drive those things away, just when we need more knowledge workers to boost our sagging demographics and a stronger small business community. Plus giving state lawmakers more money for education doesn’t mean they’ll spend the new dollars on education – we’ve seen that happen time and again. The State Chamber and Educate Maine both oppose Question 2, as does the PRCC. Chuck Lawton’s op-ed summaries all the reasons why this is a bad idea.
- Question 3 adds regulations to gun sales. Police and gun violence prevention advocates strongly support Question 3. Many gun rights advocates strongly oppose the question. Which side you come down on has a lot to do with your priorities and how you perceive the effectiveness of the proposed regulations.
- Question 4 raises the minimum wage in Maine to $12 an hour by 2020, phases out the tipped wage credit for hospitality staff by 2024, and puts future minimum wage increases on auto pilot by indexing them to CPI. Employers will offset increasing labor costs through price increases, elimination of low-productivity jobs and automation. Wages will be redistributed, but not expanded. And every restaurant’s business model will be dramatically changed. Some will survive, others won’t, but we will all see the impacts at our favorite dining places. Question 4 is opposed by many business organizations including the State Chamber, the Innkeepers and Restaurant Associations, as well as many members of the PRCC.
- Question 5 offers ranked choice voting for Maine elections. The City of Portland uses this system which creates a runoff mechanism on a single ballot. Proponents hope that candidates will be less abrasive as they look for 2nd place ranking votes. Opponents criticize the complexity of the system and question its need. One thing is certain – rank choice voting will require voters to have an opinion of every candidate, relative to every other candidate, if they want their ballot to be counted in each round of runoff voting.
- Question 6 is a $100,000,000 transportation bond, usually the most popular kind of bond of all. This one will help fix bridges and roads that badly need help. Expect it to pass with a big margin of victory.
For more information about each referendum question please download the Maine Secretary of State’s Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election 11/8/16. It’s a great resource and far less opinionated than I am!
Which brings us back to the beginning. Every difficult problem has a simple solution that’s wrong. From a business perspective this year’s crop of ballot questions may do real harm. Maine doesn’t benefit from being the east coast weed state; our brand is far more precious than that. Raising taxes will drive away talent when we need it most, and send education funding to affluent communities while leaving poor ones with little or nothing; the inequities of our existing school funding formula will be increased, not lessened. A higher minimum wage may work in Portland (at least while the economy remains strong), but for much of the state Portland wages are unaffordable and the economic fallout will cost jobs and close businesses. And our restaurants, a mainstay of our economy, will stagger with a new business model many of them are not able to sustain.
Please vote on November 8th whether you agree with me or not. But when the dust settles after the election I expect we may have additional problems to fix, not solutions to celebrate.