Government power supporters try again to keep true cost of takeover from voters
March 7, 2023
For immediate release
Contact: Willy Ritch 207-841-8400 | [email protected]
A judge in Maine today rejected the most recent attempt by the Pine Tree Power campaign to avoid voter approval of the cost of their proposal to seize Maine’s electric utilities. Supporters of Pine Tree Power sued the State of Maine in an attempt to block the No Blank Checks referendum, which would give voters the chance to approve any new government borrowing over $1 billion. Seizing CMP and Versant–the state’s two privately-owned utilities–would run up an estimated $13.5 billion in debt.
Superior Court Justice Micaela Murphy denied a request by supporters of Pine Tree Power today, rejecting their arguments that Secretary of State Shenna Bellows acted incorrectly in certifying the No Blank Checks signatures. Upholding Secretary Bellows’ certification means the ballot measure will qualify for a statewide vote this November.
“Over and over again, Pine Tree Power has tried to find a way to head off any requirement that they come clean about the cost of their proposal,” said Willy Ritch, executive director of No Blank Checks. “The painful truth is that their scheme would put us on the hook for $13.5 billion in debt, but they are bending over backwards to try and avoid letting the voters of Maine have a say before we are saddled with that astronomical debt.”
Last December, the No Blank Checks campaign submitted more than enough signatures to meet the threshold to put its referendum on the ballot this November, but in their lawsuit, Pine Tree Power claimed that some of the signatures Bellows certified as accurate should have been rejected. The judge disagreed, did not disqualify a single additional signature, and upheld the Secretary of State’s decision.
It’s not the first time the Pine Tree Power campaign has tried to avoid going to voters for approval of the debt that would come from a takeover of the electric utilities. In 2021 they modified their own proposal to try and include language that would prevent the No Blank Checks referendum from applying to them. When that didn’t work, they tried to keep voters from signing the No Blank Checks petition. After more than enough voters signed the petitions anyway, Pine Tree Power supporters posed as officials from the No Blank Checks campaign in an attempt to get the Secretary of State’s office to disqualify some of the petitions signed by voters.
Background: There are two citizen-initiated referenda at play, both of which are likely to be on the ballot this November. Pine Tree Power is the proposal to seize CMP and Versant to create a quasi-governmental power authority. No Blank Checks is a proposal to require any new government borrowing of over $1 billion to get statewide voter approval. It’s estimated that Pine Tree Power would need to borrow $13.5 billion to pay for CMP and Versant after seizing them. If both referenda pass this November, the Pine Tree Power authority would have to go back to voters to get approval for the debt they would need to take on.
A citizen-initiated referendum requires supporters of a proposal to collect signatures from 10% of the voters in the last gubernatorial election—the current requirement is 67,682 signatures. On January 26, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows found that No Blank Checks had submitted petitions containing 68,807 valid signatures. Ten days after that determination, Pine Tree Power supporters sued Bellows, arguing that she should not have certified certain signatures and qualified the referendum for a vote. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of William Dunn, who is listed in the “about us” section of the Pine Tree Power campaign website.