Maine’s secretary of state released the reworded text of a controversial referendum question that will ask Maine voters if they want to create the Pine Tree Power Co., a nonprofit utility that would replace Central Maine Power Co. and Versant Power.
The new referendum question on the ballot will ask voters: “Do you want to create a new power company governed by an elected board to acquire and operate existing for-profit electricity transmission and distribution facilities in Maine?” Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said in a statement Wednesday.
Bellows’ revision came after the courts took issue with the use of the term “quasi-governmental” in the original referendum question.
In March, Superior Court Judge MaryGay Kennedy said the state’s draft question, which used the word “quasi-governmental” to describe the proposed utility’s governance, could be misleading or confusing to voters. Kennedy did not offer any suggestions on how the question should be worded.
Bellows appealed that decision, arguing that another adjective, “consumer-owned” – the phrasing preferred by proponents of Pine Tree Power – could “misguide voters” into believing they would own a part of the company. Rather, Bellows said, “quasi-governmental” accurately describes the makeup of a public utility’s board of directors and classification as a “general government entity.”
The referendum question would have asked voters: “Do you want to create a new quasi-governmental power company governed by an elected board to acquire and operate existing for-profit electricity transmission and distribution facilities in Maine?”
But in its ruling last month, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court sided with the proponents, led by a group called Our Power, and decided that the term “quasi-governmental” and the overall referendum question must be rewritten so it is clear and concise to a reasonable voter. “Consumer-owned” was also rejected.
On Thursday, the Legislature will consider acting on the Pine Tree Power proposal – an option that’s required as part of the citizen initiative process but rarely followed. The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will discuss the proposal and hear public comments beginning at 1 p.m. If no action is taken, the decision to enact the bill creating the public utility would then go to voters on the November ballot.