Time to vote

By Randall Poulton | Jul 09, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, I applied, via mail, for my absentee ballot. Now I have it in hand and it is time to vote. On top of the political and personality factors that usually drive decisions, I believe voters need to be especially conscious of, and informed about, our state’s financial situation.

Remember that Maine, unlike the federal government, is required to operate on a more or less balanced budget (although Maine can borrow some money via bonds — more on that in a minute). If revenues are substantially less than the official forecast, which is what is happening now because of the coronavirus restrictions, by law, the governor and/or the Legislature must take action. There are only two choices to balance the budget: They must raise taxes or cut spending.

So how is Maine doing financially? It’s a bit complicated. While traditional revenues (taxes) are way down, this shortfall has been made up by a one-time $1.25 billion gift from the federal government. So, for the fiscal year that ended June 30, it looks like Maine will be OK. But FY 2021, the second year of the current biennial budget, may well be a disaster. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the coronavirus, and the economic consequences thereof, are not going away anytime soon.

It seems likely that FY 2021 will be a time of high unemployment and low tax revenues. Business that depend on tourism will continue to struggle and the lavish CARES Act benefits are time-limited. After all that free money is gone, business owners will feel the full financial pain of the “new normal.” Layoffs and closures will follow. It seems likely the Legislature will be required to convene to craft and pass a supplemental budget. Voters should be wary of adding more expenses to our already busted budget.

OK, back to the ballot. Question 1 asks voters to approve a $15 million bond to “invest in high-speed internet for unserved and underserved areas.” Or, said another way, Question 1 asks voters to approve the state's borrowing $15 million it cannot afford, to spend on something the private sector should be doing. This one is easy for me — I vote No!

Question 2 asks voters to approve a $105 million bond “for improvements of highways and bridges,” etc. I hate to say “No” to this bond, because many of our roads suck, but it is time the state figures out a way to pay for normal maintenance without borrowing money. Bonds should only be used to fund capital projects and not to pay for operating expenses. That roads and bridges need fixing this year should be no surprise — they need fixing every year! I vote No!

On page two of my Republican ballot, I am asked to select which candidate I think has the best chance to defeat Congressman Golden in the fall election. Now, other people may think they are supposed to vote for the candidate they like best, or the candidate with the most experience, or the candidate with the best platform. But that is wrong-minded. Whoever wins the Republican nomination must be able to beat Golden in November or Golden gets two more years. When you look at the ballot that way, the choice is clear: Adrienne Bennett. Maine has a long history of sending women to Congress (Margret Chase Smith, Olympia Snow, Susan Collins). Bennett will beat Golden. Dale Crafts has tons of experience and Eric “Achy” Brakey is a nice guy, but I don’t like either’s chance against Golden.

But guess what? I can legally vote for all three candidates. Yup, through the magic (madness) of ranked choice voting, I can legally vote three times: so long as I only vote once for each candidate; fill in only one oval per line and one oval per column; don’t try to do a write-in and don’t get confused — everything will be fine. Good luck with that! I am sure there will be another recount.

That brings me to page three: the Regional School Unit budget referendum for Hampden area schools. This year, RSU 22’s local share request is for $12.7 million. How very nice. There hasn’t been a kid in school, or a teacher in a classroom, for almost four months. Yet, school buses still drive the roads, belching diesel fumes. But instead of delivering students, they deliver meals-on-wheels to coolers placed at the ends of driveways. Some people, who have obviously forgotten how children behave, are suggesting schools can reopen this fall, “so long as everyone wears a mask.” Seriously? How about we decide now to keep the schools closed until at least January 2021 and save a whole bunch of money?

If it were up to me, kids would be going back, sans masks, full time, in September. Let the teachers wear masks if they want. With my plan, kids would once again be getting the structure they desperately need and maybe even a little education to boot. Cafeterias would serve hot, nutritious meals and buses could be reserved for transporting people! But I digress.

I think RSU 22’s budget is too high. I vote “No.” And I wonder how much the financially strapped state will actually kick-in — not the 55% required by law, that is for sure! Look for this to be one of the cuts in the supplemental budget. But parents with school-age children needn’t worry. If the school budget doesn’t pass in July, there will be another vote in August at a time and place virtually unknown to all but the teachers and administrators employed by RSU 22. On the second ballot, the budget will pass handily.

Election Day is July 14, so vote early and vote often!

Randall Poulton is a columnist for The Republican Journal. He lives in Winterport.

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