When voters go to the polls this coming Tuesday, Nov. 3, they will be deciding whether changes should be made to Maine’s Clean Election Act, as well as the fate of two bonds totaling $100 million. Following are brief summaries of each of those questions, courtesy of the 2015 Maine Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election.

Question 1 – Citizen’s Initiative: “Do you want to change Maine law to allow publicly financed state candidates to qualify for additional funds under certain limits and rules in the Maine Clean Election Act, to improve the disclosure of who pays for political ads, and to increase penalties for violations of campaign finance law?”

This citizen-initiated legislation makes a number of changes to the Maine Clean Election Act and other provisions of Maine’s campaign finance laws. The initiative would amend the Maine Clean Election Act to increase the amount of the initial distribution of public funds to gubernatorial and legislative candidates, with different amounts specified depending on whether the candidate is in a contested or uncontested primary, and a contested or uncontested general election; allow qualifying candidates to obtain additional public funds during the campaign by collecting $5 contributions from more registered voters within their districts, up to a specified cap; increase the maximum amount of seed money that a legislative candidate may raise in donations up to $100 per donor while the candidate is seeking to qualify for public funding; eliminate the requirement that a candidate for Governor collect at least $40,000 in seed money contributions in order to qualify for public funding; and increase from two million to three million dollars the amount of funding that must be transferred into the Maine Clean Election Fund each year and require that this revenue be generated by reducing tax expenditures.

Tax expenditures are losses of state revenue attributed to laws that provide special exclusions, exemptions or deductions, or allow special credits, preferential rates of tax or deferral of tax liability. The Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Taxation would be directed to report out legislation recommending the permanent elimination of six million dollars of corporate tax expenditures in each biennium, placing a priority on eliminating the tax expenditures that have been determined by the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to produce little or no demonstrated economic development benefit.

The legislation does not define what constitutes a corporate tax expenditure. The initiated legislation also includes two new disclosure provisions. First, any organization or entity that acts independently of a candidate and funds political advertisements or other communications expressly advocating for or against a candidate on broadcast or cable television, broadcast radio, Internet audio programming, newspapers, magazines or direct mail, would have to identify in the communication the top three donors who gave the entity $1,000 or more during the election cycle. Second, any committee formed to collect donations to fund activities related to the inauguration of a new Governor and the transition to a new administration would have to register with the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices and file financial disclosure statements listing the names, addresses, occupations and employers of each donor who contributes more than $50, and all expenditures made by the committee.

Lobbyists and those who employ a lobbyist would be prohibited from making donations to this type of committee during a regular or special session of the Legislature. The initiative would increase both the baseline and maximum penalties for violations of existing campaign finance laws, including violations for failure to file and for late filing of campaign finance reports by candidates, party committees and political action committees, and for failure to maintain records of campaign donations and expenditures. It also would authorize the Commission to impose enhanced penalties for violations that occur less than 28 days before an election.

The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices would be responsible for administering the provisions of this proposed law and would be authorized to adopt rules to implement it.

If approved, this citizen initiated legislation would take effect 30 days after the Governor proclaims the official results of the election. A “YES” vote is to enact the initiated legislation. A “NO” vote opposes the initiated legislation.

Question 2 – Bond Issue: “Do you favor a $15,000,000 bond issue for the construction of new energy-efficient affordable homes for low-income seniors, the adaptive reuse of structures for homes for low-income seniors and the repair and weatherization of existing homes for low-income seniors, which will create jobs and will be matched by an estimated $22,600,000 in private and other funds?”

This Act would authorize the State to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $15 million to provide funds for the construction and repair of affordable, energy-efficient housing for low-income seniors. The bonds would run for a period not longer than 10 years from the date of the original issue of the bonds and would be backed by the full faith and credit of the State. Proceeds from the sale of these bonds would be administered by the Maine State Housing Authority as follows: $14.5 million would be used to support construction of new energy-efficient homes and the conversion of existing buildings that are not currently used for housing into multi-family residential housing for low-income households headed by a person who is 55 years of age or older. The funds would be allocated to project developers on a competitive basis, and are expected to leverage investment of approximately $22.6 million in private funds or other government funds. In allocating the bond proceeds, the Maine State Housing Authority must give preference to projects in locations with access to health care services and other essential goods and services. In addition, at least four projects must be located in counties with populations of less than 100,000 residents. These are: Aroostook, Oxford, Hancock, Somerset, Knox, Waldo, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Washington, Franklin and Piscataquis Counties.

$500,000 would be used to help fund weatherization and repairs to existing homes owned by low-income senior citizens with the goal of enabling them to stay in their homes. The proceeds of the bond, if approved, are expected to support the development of more than 200 housing units and the weatherization or repair of approximately 100 units.

If approved, the authorization of these bonds would take effect 30 days after the Governor’s proclamation of the vote. A “YES”vote approves the issuance of up to $15 million in general obligation bonds to finance the activities described above. A “NO” vote disapproves the bond issue in its entirety.

Question 3- Bond Issue: “Do you favor an $85,000,000 bond issue for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities and equipment related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $121,500,000 in federal and other funds? “

This Act would authorize the State to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $85 million to raise funds for a variety of projects as described below. The bonds would run for a period not longer than 10 years from the date of issue and would be backed by the full faith and credit of the State. Proceeds from the sale of these bonds would be administered by the Department of Transportation and used for the following purposes:

Highways, secondary roads and bridges – $68 million would be expended to: construct, reconstruct or rehabilitate state highways that have been designated as Priority 1, 2 or 3 by the Department of Transportation in accordance with state statute; repair secondary roads in partnership with municipalities pursuant to the existing Municipal Partnership Initiative program; and replace and rehabilitate bridges. Municipalities are required to contribute 50 percent or more of the project costs under the Municipal Partnership Initiative program. Highway and bridge projects are matched with federal funds on a ratio of 1.1 to 1 federal to state dollars. Accordingly, these bond proceeds are expected to leverage approximately $75 million in federal and local matching funds.

Multi-modal projects – $17 million would be spent on a variety of projects, including facilities, equipment and acquisition of property related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, aviation, railroads (both passenger and freight), transit (public transportation) and bicycle and pedestrian trails. The intent is to fund projects that preserve public safety or otherwise demonstrate high economic value in terms of transportation. The investment of these bond proceeds is expected to be matched by approximately $46.5 million in federal, local and private funds.

If approved, the authorization of these bonds would take effect 30 days after the Governor’s proclamation of the vote. A “YES” vote approves the issuance of up to $85 million in general obligation bonds to finance the activities described above. A “NO” vote disapproves the bond issue in its entirety.


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