AUGUSTA — The Senate on Wednesday dealt the first blow to Gov. Paul LePage’s bill that would ask voters whether they want tax relief in exchange for $100 million in state spending cuts.
The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 21-13 to defeat the measure, which would have put a non-binding advisory referendum on the ballot for the June primary election. Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, and Rep. Richard Woodbury, I-Yarmouth, voted with the Democratic majority.
The bill does not identify specific spending cuts. The governor highlighted the proposal during his State of the State speech in February when he promised to take the issue of state spending and taxes to voters.
Democrats and LePage’s opponents in November’s election called the proposal an election-year stunt, saying the governor can propose spending cuts and tax reform through the budget process.
Under the governor’s bill, voters would be asked in an advisory referendum in June whether they favor “lowering income tax rates, implementing taxes and reducing overall tax revenues and government spending by at least $100 million in order to make Maine more economically competitive and improve the job creation environment.”
If voters said yes, LePage would direct his finance chief to include unspecified tax and spending cuts in the next biennial budget totaling $100 million, about 1.7 percent of the budget.
While a governor already can propose tax and spending cuts in a proposed budget, LePage’s bill would give his proposal the backing of voters.
In his State of the State address on Feb. 4, LePage said it should be up to voters to decide if they want lower taxes and less government spending.
“Let’s stop arguing about tax reform,” he said. “Let’s ask the people who really matter. Let’s ask Maine’s hard-working taxpayers.”
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Anne Haskell, D-Portland, said in a written statement that voters “best let us know if they think we are spending their money appropriately when they cast their ballots on Election Day.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states rarely use the advisory referendum, in part because the results are non-binding.
In 2002, Rhode Island held an advisory referendum that asked votes whether they wanted to change the state constitution to make all three branches of government co-equal. Seventy-six percent of the voters supported the measure, but it was non-binding and later rejected by the Democrat-controlled Rhode Island Assembly. Critics of the bill said it was Republican Gov. Lincoln Almond’s attempt to use a slanted referendum question to shift power from an assembly typically controlled by Democrats to the executive branch.
LePage’s proposal faces additional votes in the House of Representatives.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:[email protected]Twitter: @stevemistler