"Those of us who would like the government to consume less of other people's income are not against having a government, we're against a government that is too chunky, and too big," Norguist said today at an event organized by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the conservative think tank that penned the referendum.
Norquist says that voters are much more receptive to spending caps now than three years ago, when a similar proposal was defeated in Maine. He says citizens have grown frustrated with government bailouts of the car and banking industries, and with the distribution of stimulus money.
"There's a heightened interest on spending and I think the Maine TABOR will sort of be a spark to other states. I'm talking to taxpayer activists and citizens' groups, all of whom are looking to see that if Maine, a moderate Northeastern state says, 'Yes, let's take a look at this,' it then becomes a stronger sell in Arizona and Washington and Oregon and Florida," Norquist says.
Opponents of TABOR 2, who protested Norquist's appearance at the South Portland Marriott, say he is not really thinking about the interests of Maine people, but simply trying to spread his anti-tax strategy around the country.
"He is from away and doesn't have Maine values, and really, it's inappropriate for him to even be pushing this here in Maine," says Harris Parnell, who is with the League of Young Voters, whose members were among the couple dozen protestors outside the hotel.
Those against TABOR 2 have also hosted out-of-staters, such as Kristi Hargrove, a Colorado woman who fought spending caps in that state because of their impact on local schools. But they say Hargrove is a mom and business person, rather than a D.C.-based lobbyist such as Norquist.
And Parnell worries experiences in Colorado could actually be replicated in Maine if TABOR 2 were to pass. "It will impact so many of the public services that we rely on, whether it's just the public water services, or sewage treatment plants, any sort of public funding that goes into anything that we use in our everyday lives would be impacted, and right now during this tough economic climate, this is the wrong time to be eliminating spending even further," Parnell says.
Ben Dudley of Engage Maine, another group opposed to TABOR 2, says that it would make tough times even tougher. "We know that state spending has dramatically declined as a result of this economic recession. We can't sustain the future economic growth in our economy if this is how we're going to govern."
Supporters of TABOR 2 counter that the state's own belt-tightening hasn't gone far enough. "Whatever constraints are on Maine's budget are toothless, they really haven't constrained government spending," says John Fund, a conservative columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who was also invited as a guest of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.
Fund says that for Maine to stay competitive with other states that don't have income taxes, for example, it needs to adopt TABOR 2.
"I think TABOR is the most important ballot initiative any state is voting on this year," he says.
If TABOR 2 is not on the national radar, Fund is working to get it there. He says that the initiative will be the focus of a piece he is writing in the coming week.