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Lawmakers Try to Figure Out How to Fund Clean Elections Expansion

House members in Augusta split along party lines over how to fund the expansion of the state’s clean elections program, which voters approved last fall.

The citizen-initiated proposal, which expands taxpayer funding in races for the Legislature and for governor, was approved at the ballot box in November, but left open where the additional $3 million needed to fund it would come from.

The Legislature is considering its options, including the closure of tax loopholes. Rep. Adam Goode of Bangor says fellow Democrats on the Taxation Committee have proposed going after large corporations that evade taxes through foreign subsidiaries.

“There are multiple states that address the use of foreign tax havens,” he says. “The Supreme Court has ruled twice on the constitutionality of international combined reporting, which is what this bill does.”

But Republicans object to that approach, saying it would hurt some Maine corporations. Rep. Stedman Seavey of Kennebunkport and says the Democrats’ plan is bad policy.

“It penalizes Maine businesses that have operations in other countries,” he says. “These particular corporations are not tax dodgers but complying taxpayers. They pay all Maine taxes.”

Seavey says Republicans would prefer to have the Appropriations Committee find the additional funds as part of their budgeting process.

But while the issue before them was how to fund the voter-approved law, some sought to again fight the referendum battle. Rep. Joel Stekis, a Republican from Canaan, says that many of his constituents strongly opposed the measure.

“Sixteen-thousand of the 20,000 votes that put Question 1 over the top came from one county,” he says. “The vast majority of towns throughout our state voted against this legislation.”

He was referring to Cumberland County, which has the largest population of the 16 counties, and is home to Portland Democrat Diane Russell.

“The debate over whether clean elections should exist or not is officially over,” Russell says. “Using a budget tactic to shut it down is absolutely indefensible.”

But the debate over clean elections and how it’s funded is not over. The bill has yet to be considered in the Senate, where majority Republicans are likely to stand in opposition, just as they did last year when a similar measure was proposed.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.