Maine governor, many lawmakers opposing laws voters already approved
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine voters thought they approved sweeping changes to the state's rules on marijuana, taxes, voting and the minimum wage when they went to the polls last year.
But think again.
The four referendums have hit roadblocks as Republican Gov. Paul LePage, the state Legislature and the courts have weighed in. The final rule changes could be very different from the proposals voters approved in November.
Maine's Constitution makes clear that the referendums are like any other law. But just like any other law, they can be taken off the books, said Marshall Tinkle, a Portland attorney and author of "The Maine State Constitution."
"But I would say it's politically dicey when people of Maine decide that they want something, and the governor or the legislature decide they just don't want to implement it," he added.
The state's adoption of the country's first "ranked choice" voting system came under fire this week when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously concluded the election overhaul conflicts with the Maine constitution.
Lawmakers who are considering whether to implement the system or get rid of it altogether requested the court opinion.The referendum was designed to allow residents to rank their ballot choices from first to last in a system that ensures a candidate wins majority support. Supporters say it weeds out the possibility of "spoiler" candidates.
A Democratic lawmaker wants to change the law to address the court's concerns and propose the revised measure as a constitutional amendment. Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, and other Republican opponents of the voter-approved law say it is unconstitutional. Former Rep. Diane Russell, a Democrat, called efforts to undermine ranked-choice voting "shameful and anti-democratic."
In the weeks ahead, legislators will debate the proposed constitutional amendment and the possibility of repealing ranked-choice voting entirely.
WAGES FOR WAITSTAFF
LePage opposes the minimum wage hike that voters approved in November. The plan calls for raising the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 by 2020. The governor submitted a bill this week to instead increase the wage in 50-cent increments until it tops out at $11 an hour in 2021.
Mainers For Fair Wages campaigner Mike Tipping called LePage's move "a slap in the face to the 55.5 percent of voters that approved it." LePage's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The implementation schedule is not the only aspect of the voter-approved law that's under pressure. A legislative committee voted this month to recommend another bill that would restore the authority of employers to pay less than minimum wage to workers who make up the difference in tips.
SCHOOL TAX TUSSLE
A dust-up over a tax on high earners to fund education has the potential to hold up the state's passage of a budget.
Voters approved a new 3 percent surtax on portions of household income above $200,000. LePage opposes the tax, as do several large employers in the state, and Republicans have said they are committed to leaving it out of the budget.
Democratic leaders say they are open to getting rid of the tax if they can still provide the increased school funding voters approved at the polls.
John Kosinski of the Stand Up for Students campaign, which backed the school-tax proposal, said, "Voters are incredulous that some legislators could thumb their nose to the voters."
MARIJUANA BEING IMPLEMENTED
The implementation of the state's legalized marijuana program seems to be moving along with the least amount of resistance, but it will still likely be 2018 before anyone can legally buy pot in Maine.
The Legislature's Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation has been hammering out rules to govern the retail sale of marijuana. Meanwhile, many municipalities have enacted moratoriums on pot sales until they can get a look at the final rules.