The so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights went down to defeat Tuesday evening, with more than 54 percent of voters rejecting the spending limits plan, according to unofficial results compiled by the Bangor Daily News.
“I think it’s a credit to Maine people. They heard the messages and they made their choices,” said Dennis Bailey, spokesman for the anti-TABOR group Citizens United to Protect our Public Safety, Schools and Communities.
“This was an extreme proposal,” continued Bailey, whose group had predicted the spending limits could cause drastic cuts in school and public safety budgets while taking away power from locally elected officials.
TABOR, which appeared as referendum Question 1 on the statewide ballot, had been billed by its supporters as a way to rein in government spending while allowing for modest increases each year.
The plan’s backers, who had predicted victory early in the day, acknowledged late Tuesday evening that the other side had more votes with 74 percent of precincts reporting.
“The voters have made a statement that Augusta has to pay attention,” said Mary Adams of Garland, who spearheaded the TABOR initiative.
“We’re not going away,” Adams continued. “We are going to watch the policymakers and the politicians, and we are going to insist that taxpayers of the state be unburdened from the terrific burden they are facing.”
TABOR is based on a similar initiative from Colorado. The Maine plan would have limited increases in state and local government spending based on changes in population and the rate of inflation. Voter approval also would have been needed for all proposed tax or fee increases.
The debate over TABOR was never cut-and-dried. It split the editorial boards of the state’s two major newspapers, with the Bangor Daily News voicing its opposition and the Portland Press Herald its support, albeit qualified.
The campaign, at times, was a bitter one. Supporters of the plan often vented their frustration about what they saw as fear mongering by the plan’s critics who would exaggerate the spending formula’s impact on local schools and public safety departments.
The possibility of cuts to local budgets – particularly those of schools – weighed on the minds of some voters outside local polling places.
“It might be a step in the right direction, but it’s a little too extreme for me,” Peter McGovern, a 23-year-old Republican, said while he waited for his girlfriend to cast her vote at the Bangor Civic Center on Tuesday afternoon.
Twenty-five miles west of Bangor in the small town of Dixmont, Don Chuba left the polls supporting TABOR, but mindful of recent polls predicting its defeat.
“The least it will do is send a message that things have to change,” said Chuba, who echoed TABOR backers’ complaints about the state’s high tax burden.
Likewise, back in Bangor, 44-year-old Lynne Dumont said increases in her property taxes prompted her to vote for TABOR.
“I’m a single mom working two jobs and I have trouble making ends meet. Things keep going up and up,” she said. “There’s too much government spending, and we the taxpayers are paying.”
Cutting government spending is easier said than done, said Jen Fiske, a 34-year-old physical therapist, after emerging from the busy Hampden polls.
“Whenever they want to limit spending, I always question where the money is going to come from for things like schools and roads,” said Fiske, who is not enrolled in a party. “That money has to come from somewhere.”
The uncertainty of the effects of TABOR – as well as the legal wrangling over its wording – helped 75-year-old George Percival of Bangor make up his mind.
“There’s been too much hassle over it, and if there’s too much hassle, it’s no good,” said Percival, a Republican. “If they’re going to make a taxpayer bill, make it easy with no strings.”