PORTLAND (AP) – Both sides of the tax cap referendum saw something positive in Attorney General Steven Rowe’s opinion that government officials can have limited involvement in the campaign.

Leaders of Tax Cap YES! said the attorney general’s four-page opinion agrees with their contention that government officials are too involved in the campaign to defeat the cap.

But a group that opposes the tax cap said the attorney general upheld its belief that state and local officials are free to analyze and offer information about the proposal, which voters will decide during the Nov. 2 election.

In his opinion, Rowe said there are constitutional limits on spending public money to advocate in a public campaign but he said there was nothing wrong with public officials expressing their views.

“Governmental bodies and officials,” he wrote, “may not expend public funds solely or primarily for purposes of partisan advocacy without express authorization, and even where authorized, these activities are subject to constitutional limits.”

He continued, “They may disseminate information on matters such as citizen initiatives and may express their views as public officials. We have found no case concluding that public resources such as personnel time cannot be used in support of these allowable activities.”

Orlando Delogu, a law professor who has provided legal advice to Tax Cap YES! said some officials, including Gov. John Baldacci, have gone too far.

But that was not Rowe’s conclusion. “What he is saying is there are limits, and he didn’t go so far as to say those limits have been exceeded,” Delogu said.

Dennis Bailey of the anti-tax cap group Citizens United to Protect Our Public Safety, Schools and Communities noted a part of the opinion that said, “It may be argued that municipal officials have an obligation to inform their constituents of the impact of the tax cap on their town’s budget.”

Bailey said municipal officials are nearly unanimous in their opposition to the proposal and that Tax Cap YES! approached the attorney general in an effort to “put a chilling effect on municipal officials from speaking out, from telling the voters what the implications of this would be.”

He agreed that taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund advertisements or to actively fight against the proposal.


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