Bond issues misleading; matching funds questionable

In addition to my weekly post based on my newspaper column, I add an occasional mid-week brief on a current issue.

Maine voters will be faced with six bond issues in November, but they may be forced to make uninformed choices.

With all the attention being paid to the bear hunting referendum, many people may not become aware of the six bond issues on the ballot this November before they vote.

Even if they read the Secretary of State’s election guide or carefully scan the ballot itself, they will see an incomplete and potentially misleading description of the issues.

Three of the six, for a total of $20.6 million also mention $23.7 million in matching funds. But, unlike the usual highway matches provided by the federal government, there’s no indication of the source of the matches.

Even more important, whatever the legislative intent, none of these three bond questions says that either the bonds should not be issued until the matching money is committed or, if the funds are raised, they should not be disbursed without the matching cash having been lined up.

These bond issues note the funds will be made available through competitive bid. But the legislative history suggests the likely winners in the three cases are the University of New England, the Jackson Labs on MDI, and Coastal Enterprises, Inc.

In order to avoid simply voting funds to specific entities, a poor legislative practice, the seemingly neutral public bidding provision was substituted for the original designations. But the number of eligible bidders is limited.

Item 7 on the ballot talks about promoting the “marine sector” in Maine. Lacking the legislative history, a voter would not know the funds are intended for the development of in-state lobster processing. Nowhere are voters informed they are being asked to support this new enterprise.

At the hearing on that proposal, only one person spoke. He was the representative of Coastal Enterprises, Inc., and he suggested that his agency could help raise the matching funds.

Each of the six bond issues appears to be for a worthy cause, but their real purposes may only be understandable if a voter digs deeply enough into their background.

Because of the superficial appearance of benefit and the lack of informed public debate, proponents have given the impression, intentional or not, of trying to put something past the voters.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.