AUGUSTA (AP) – A proposal to bolster state school aid and lower property taxes will get top billing on Maine’s Nov. 4 referendum ballot, a random drawing Monday by the top state election official determined.

Lower on the ballot, a $6.9 million proposal for clean-water projects won top spot among the three bond issue questions in the drawing by Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky.

Gwadosky, who picked envelopes containing the titles from a shiny silver bowl, said the order of questions on the fall ballot has little if any influence over whether they are successful.

At least one of the contestants also dismissed the importance of placement on the ballot.

“We’re just happy to be able to target our message on the ballot,” said Erin Lehane of Think About It, the campaign for an Indian gambling casino.

The November ballot will include three initiatives and three bond issues. State law says citizen initiatives must appear ahead of bonds. No constitutional amendments or other questions are up for votes this year.

The top question asks whether state public education subsidies should be increased to 55 percent, followed by a competing question advanced by the Legislature last week that seeks to phase in the increased subsidies and expand or restore property tax relief programs.

A third option is none of the above.

If one of the choices wins a majority of votes in November, the issue is settled. If none gets at least 50 percent, the top vote getter – provided it wins at least a third of the votes this fall – goes back on the ballot in the spring.

Only three times in the past – in 1948, 1985 and 1996 – has the Legislature sent questions to the ballot to compete with citizen initiatives. The 1985 question dealt with low-level radioactive waste disposal and the most recent with forest clearcutting.

The second initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot asks voters if they want to allow slot machines at certain commercial horse racing tracks, and the third asks if the state should allow a gambling casino run by the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indians.

Among the three bond issues totaling more than $89 million, the first seeks $6.9 million for several water pollution control projects, hazardous waste cleanups, overboard discharge removal and drinking water system improvements.

The second bond proposal on the ballot seeks $19 million for educational projects at Maine’s state university campuses, community colleges, Maine Maritime Academy and public libraries.

The largest bond issue – nearly $63.5 million for improvements to highways, bridges, rail corridors and other transportation facilities – is also the last on the ballot.

The bond package was also sent to voters during last week’s special session.

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Secretary of State Election Bureau:

AP-ES-08-27-03 1614EDT

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