AUGUSTA — A House vote to require a public hearing on a ballot question aimed at raising taxes on the wealthy to expand a program for elderly and disabled residents fell one vote short Thursday.

The 72-73 vote came after about an hour of debate. Minority Republicans supported sending the ballot measure to the Legislature’s Taxation Committee for a hearing, as would be done for any bill.

The proposal would increase taxes on high-earning Mainers to raise $310 million annually to provide home care including home health aides, home repair, hospice care and transportation. The measure is backed by the Maine People’s Alliance, a progressive political organization in Lewiston that was largely bankrolled by nonprofits backed by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Under the Maine Constitution, the Legislature could adopt the proposal without sending it to voters or create a competing ballot measure. In 2017, the Legislature voted to send a controversial ballot initiative asking voters to approve a casino for York County to a hearing, and then voted to send it to voters. The casino question was defeated, with 83 percent voting against it.

While Republican lawmakers said a hearing would provide information to voters, Democrats largely rejected that argument, saying the casino question was an exception and the Legislature rarely holds hearings on ballot questions.

State Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said he would vote against the home care ballot question this fall and opposed sending it to a hearing first.

He cited several recent ballot measures that did not go to hearings, including one to raise taxes on the wealthy for education and another to legalize recreational marijuana use. “Don’t try to say this one is different and therefore it should have a public hearing while the others did not,” Martin said.

But Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said Martin had just made the best argument all day for sending all ballot questions to public hearings. Ballot questions cited by Martin that were approved by voters still required much work by the Legislature before they became law, he said, and some, such as recreational pot, are still being worked on.

“Maybe if some of the other referendum questions would have gone (to public hearing) we wouldn’t have been in the predicament we’ve been in for the last two years of working our way through the marijuana bill … and just about every other ballot question that we are still tinkering with today,” Timberlake said.

The casino question showed the value of a hearing, he said.

“When the public got all the information, they voted it down,” Timberlake said.

Following the no-vote on the public hearing Thursday, the House voted to indefinitely postpone action on the home care ballot question, so it will likely appear on the November ballot.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog