In its quest to reduce government services, TABOR disrespects majority rule.

For the next four months, prepare yourself to be taborized. Unfortunately, there is no way around it, unless you move out of state. Maine citizens will be bombarded with information and opinions on TABOR, the anti-government initiative that will appear on the November ballot. Officially titled the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, this measure could substantially reduce government services, if passed.

Under TABOR, local and state government spending increases would be restricted to a proportion equal the annual population change, plus inflation. It would also apply to a portion of school districts. Some advocates of TABOR call this a “growth allowance.” The ceiling could be exceeded only if two-thirds of the governing body votes to do so. If that happened, then only an additional simple majority vote would be necessary to break the spending limit.

The most important part of TABOR is the fundamental precept which underpins the initiative. This precept is not taxes; it is distrust of majority rule. This is also the most disdainful part of TABOR. Our elected officials and town meetings should have the power to pass budgets by majority vote, period. The logic or specific composition of the “growth allowance” is a minor concern.

Currently, our state government requires only a majority vote for all bills. Bills take effect 90 days after adjournment of the session. However because the budget is so contentious, recent legislative sessions have passed state budgets obscenely early in the session (often on a party-line vote) just to avoid having to come up with a two-thirds vote later in the session. This is done because, if a budget isn’t passed by April 1, it will need to be passed as an emergency in order for it to be operative by July 1 (the start of the fiscal year). A two-thirds vote is mandatory for an emergency bill. If the opposition party wants to bargain effectively, perhaps embarrass the majority party, or threaten a government shutdown, voting on the budget late in the session gives them that power.

However there is a far simpler way for the opposition party to gain more clout: win more seats in the Legislature. If you just substitute policies for parties, the same principle applies to city councils and town meetings. If you want to win, get more votes.

TABOR proponents feel our politicians don’t have enough restrictions on them. What do you call elections, then? If you don’t like how your legislator voted on a budget bill, work to replace them. All of our state legislators are term-limited anyway. If you feel that Maine needs tougher term limits (for example, with lifetime caps), then try to get an initiative on the ballot. If you are still frustrated with Augusta, then run for office yourself. We have a highly successful clean elections system that reduces the financial burden for working and middle-class people to run for state office.

The pro-TABOR forces claim that majority rule is ultimately respected because the voters can eventually pass any spending measure they want by majority vote. Of course a two-thirds approval from the governing body must come first.

This treats voters as if we were helpless children; unable to stop ourselves from spending too much money. A PowerPoint presentation link on the Maine Heritage Policy Center Web site illustrates this attitude: “Maine government should be given a yearly spending allowance. If politicians want to spend more, they should get permission from taxpayers first.” Hold on. We the taxpayers give our permission to our state legislators and city council members to spend our money through the election process. We the taxpayers do it ourselves during town meeting. Why is that so difficult to understand?

Parts of TABOR may also be unconstitutional. For example, Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe believes that only a constitutional amendment would allow the state to relinquish state taxation powers to the voters and a legislative minority.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, when it comes to the procedure for revenue increases, 34 states respect majority rule. Only 16 states require a legislative supermajority. Just three states require a combination of a supermajority and voter approval. Colorado, the only state to pass TABOR, recently suspended spending limits put on by TABOR.

The fundamental intent of TABOR is to decrease the fiscal resources of government, and ultimately make it less of a factor in our lives. That is a noble goal, if you believe in that philosophy. What is not righteous is to circumvent majority rule for that objective.

Karl Trautman is the chairperson of the Department of Social Sciences at Central Maine Community College. He was a policy analyst with the Michigan Legislature from 1997 to 2001.

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