Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows has approved the wording for a referendum question that could make it difficult to engineer a public purchase of the state’s largest power utilities.

If successful, voter approval would be required for a consumer-owned utility, such as one proposed on the same November ballot, to take on more than $1 billion in debt.

Bellows said the question on the ballot in November will read: “Do you want to bar some quasi-government entities and all consumer-owned utilities from taking on more than $1 billion in debt unless they get statewide voter approval?”

Willy Ritch, executive director of No Blank Checks, the group which is backing the debt-approval referendum, said the wording is acceptable to his group.

“It’s actually a pretty straightforward proposal,” Ritch said. Representatives of Our Power, the group backing the consumer buyout of the utilities, did not return a call seeking reaction to the wording.

Three weeks ago, a state judge ordered Bellows to rewrite the language for the referendum that could create the consumer-owned utilities through a buyout of investor-owned Central Maine Power and Versant Power.

The judge said that Bellow’s use of “quasi-governmental” in that question could be confusing or misleading to voters. Bellows has appealed that decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and a ruling is expected within the next week or two.

Once the wording questions are settled, the referendum proposals will go to the state Legislature. Lawmakers can either approve the proposals, send the questions to voters or adopt competing proposals that would go on the ballot with the questions.

The Legislature almost always sends the questions to voters without alternative questions.

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