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Referendum questions could significantly impact job growth

By Jonathan P. LaBonté

Mayor of Auburn

On Tuesday, November 8, voters in Maine—and here in Auburn—have the potential to significantly influence the ability of our community to support job retention and job growth in local businesses, as well as sustain services based on growing property tax revenue tied to private sector growth.

That’s because, in addition to the state legislative races on the ballot, there are a handful of referendum questions allowing you to play legislator.

While the sound bites in radio and TV ads might not give you all the facts, I wanted to offer some information for what could happen locally.

Question 1 asks voters to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The pitch is that we should regulate it just like alcohol, take the windfall from tax revenue and divert law enforcement attention elsewhere. While the country may be moving in the direction of legalizing marijuana, it is still an illegal drug under federal law.

In Maine, it was decriminalized decades ago and possession is just a criminal offense. Police are already focusing on more pressing law enforcement matters like the opioid drug epidemic.

Of particular concern for me, however, is its impact on local businesses that have a desire to be drug-free workplaces—this law as drafted does not provide them that protection. Unlike alcohol, there are no definitive testing methods to determine if someone is under the influence. In addition, businesses with fewer than 50 employees are prohibited in state law from random drug testing to ensure they remain a drug-free workplace.

That’s a flaw in this referendum that warrants a “no” vote from where I sit, which is to protect our employers and their workplaces first and foremost.

Question 2 seeks to increase Maine’s top marginal tax rate to the second highest in the country with a proposal that the new tax revenue go to Maine’s public schools. In school year 2006-07, Auburn had just under 3,500 students enrolled, but spent over $32 million. With enrollment relatively flat, this year’s expenditures will exceed $40 million. Throughout the state during that same period, there was a decline of about 20,000 students, but spending statewide has increased over a quarter of a billion dollars.

Having spoken with businesses, ranging from small business owners to manufacturers based here, Maine’s high-tax environment makes it a constant challenge not only to profit in Maine, but also to generate enough income after taxes to reinvest so you can grow your business. Targeting successful Maine residents and business owners is not how we keep turning our community or the state around. Declining student enrollments and significant increases in spending tells me we need our legislators to get to work on educational reforms before penalizing citizen in their paychecks.

Question 3, regarding expanding background checks, casts such a wide net on documenting guns in Maine that something as simple as lending your gun to a friend for a weekend hunting trip would be illegal if you didn’t conduct background checks first. Auburn still has its rural roots, and I know many enjoy hunting throughout our region of western Maine. I’m not so sure that requiring friends who lend a hunting rifle to each other to get background checks before they borrow it, then again when they bring it back, is common-sense gun control.

Question 4 will ask you if you want to raise the minimum wage by 60%. While there are many arguments to be made to increase the minimum wage in small increments over time, this level of increase this quickly will have a significant negative ripple effect.

One local example is the impact this much-
higher minimum wage will have on the availability of entry-level jobs for our young people. As we seek to break down generational poverty in Auburn, having high school students gain work experience and the skills to become productive in our community is essential. Fewer jobs because of this sharp increase in labor costs means it will be that much more difficult to prepare our young people for the workforce.

Question 5 is ranked choice voting, where if your candidate loses, your vote is then given to another candidate. Besides the constitutional questions raised by the Attorney General that mean this law most likely can’t be implemented, my view is pretty simple: one person, one vote. If you’re a candidate who can’t get a plurality, it shouldn’t mean you get another bite at the apple.

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