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beverage tax

A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

Susan Cover at the Kennebec Journal has posted an interesting question on her blog today:

Turning to Maine politics, who was the best villain of our 2008 election cycle?

Tom Allen? Susan Collins? John Frary? The beverage industry? The Legislature?

How about Pat LaMarche and the casino folks? Or on the flip side, Dennis Bailey?

From her list, I'd definitely vote for the beverage industry.

For pure cartoonish villainy, however, I'd have to go with puppy mill aficionado Lois Snowe-Mello.

Coke and Pepsi Together at Last

Despite their decades-long professional rivalry, Pepsi and Coca-Cola can agree on one thing, their support for Question 1, which would repeal the beverage tax meant to fund Dirigo Health.

PolitickerME is tracking the PAC finance reports filed today, the deadline, and notes massive contributions from both companies to Fed Up With Taxes. The PAC has raised more than $2 million so far for its veto effort.

Coca-Cola Companies: $345,600
Pepsi Bottling Company: $869,743

No on 1 TV Ad Launched

Health Coverage for Maine, a coalition of healthcare-related organizations and progressive civic groups held press conferences yesterday to launch a TV ad opposing a veto of the beverage tax meant to fund Dirigo Health.

The Fed Up With Taxes campaign has commissioned a study that shows the new tax will benefit the state to the tune of $40 million.

Update: Part of this post was removed based on a better understanding of the tax structure. I had been ignoring the tax on health insurance claims. Here's the full study commissioned by Fed Up With Taxes. Some interesting bits in there I'll be following up on.

New Beverage Tax Veto Ad

Fed Up With Taxes has a new TV ad, which doesn't mention beverages or Dirigo Health at all.

They've also launched a new radio ad which attempts to clarify the wording of the referendum and why people are voting "yes" to oppose something.

A coalition of pro-health care groups, fronted by the Maine Medical Association, will be holding press conferences in Bangor and Portland on Monday to launch their own ad.

First Beverage Tax Referendum Ad

The Fed Up With Taxes campaign has begun airing the first TV ad in favor of repealing the tax on beer, wine and syrup-based drinks which is meant to fund Dirigo Health.

Beverage Tax Veto On The Ballot

Despite finding a stunning 24% of the signatures to be invalid, the Secretary of State's office has confirmed enough signatures to place the beverage tax repeal referendum on the November ballot.

Health Coverage for Maine was quick to reply, with a statement from Maine Medical Association Vice President Gordon Smith:

That’s why Maine doctors are solidly opposed to all efforts, including this one, which would put health coverage for children and adults at risk. And that’s why we’re confident Maine voters will reject this attempt to protect beer and soda profits at the expense of jeopardizing Maine’s health coverage system. Maine is one of the few states that has lowered its rate of uninsured citizens in recent years. We need to build on that success, not take coverage away from families and small businesses.

We continue to have serious concerns about the methods used by the paid signature gatherers, especially in light of the fact that one out of four of the signatures they turned in was invalid. Stories abound of out-of-state gatherers not following the collection rules and offering false information to voters to get their signatures. We look forward to seeing the petitions ourselves but are also very comfortable with a ballot question. We are confident that when Maine voters have accurate information about the serious effects of this proposal on children and hard-working adults, they will say ‘no thanks’.

Maine Average on Taxes

The Tax Foundation, the Washington, D.C.-based think tank whose reports have often been used by conservatives in Maine to claim that Mainers are overtaxed, has revised its rankings for the last three years. It turns out that Maine is 15th, not 2nd in the country in terms of tax burden and is only .3% above the national average.

In related news, Republican columnist Dan Billings says repealing the beverage tax won't actually reduce taxes.

Ruling Hinders Signature Gatherers From Away

The Press Herald looks at some of the ramifications of the Hoffman decision today, one of which is an extra hurdle for out-of-state signature gathering firms.

One area the ruling is likely to affect is the process by which signatures are gathered. Many referendum drives in Maine rely on paid petitioners from out of state to gather signatures. But under Maine's Constitution, the people actually circulating the petition must be Maine residents.

What often happens, said Dan Billings, a Republican activist and attorney from Waterville, is that the professionals pair up with Maine residents. The pros make the pitch to would-be signers, and the Mainer who is supposed to witness the signature often isn't there, but rather in a nearby car or reading a book.

Based on the new ruling, that kind of arrangement would no longer be allowed. The circulator who signs their oath on the petition page must be a Maine resident and must witness each signature personally. This understanding of the regulations would make it more difficult for corporate-backed efforts, such as the beverage tax repeal, which have relied on signature gathering firms from outside the state, to get their issue on the ballot.

Representatives from both Health Coverage for Maine and Fed Up With Taxes are quoted in the article anticipating a challenge to the beverage tax signatures on these grounds.

A Hoppy Economy

George Smith highlights Maine's great crop of local breweries and their contribution to the state economy in his latest column.

One aspect of the debate over the veto referendum on health care funding that hasn't been paid much attention so far is the fact that the new tax of a few cents per six-pack won't be levied on Maine breweries and wineries, only out-of-state imports.

The price of Geary's, Shipyard, Allagash, Casco Bay, Sea Dog, Gritty McDuff's, and all other beer brewed in Maine won't be going up even a cent due to the health care tax. The global hops shortage, on the other hand, could cause some problems.

16 Cents on a Six-Pack

The opponents of the beverage tax to fund health care initiatives have submitted more than 90,000 signatures to the secretary of state, far surpassing the 55,087 required. This virtually guarantees that the veto will be an option on the ballot in November. Here's the report from WMTW:

The coalition of beverage distributors and business interests spent more than $400,000 and used some rather shady tactics to get their signatures, as Craig Saddlemire from the surprisingly entertaining Maine Video Activists Network explains:

For more info: Health Coverage for Maine