Ruling on spending cap petition appealed

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PORTLAND (AP) – A judge’s ruling that reversed the secretary of state’s decision to accept spending cap petitions was headed to the state supreme court with the filing of an appeal Wednesday in Kennebec County Superior Court.

Justice Donald Marden’s ruling on Tuesday would block a statewide vote on a government spending cap package patterned after a controversial system in Colorado.

But Michael Duddy filed a notice of appeal a day later on behalf of Mary Adams, who is promoting the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

The Portland lawyer’s one-sentence appeal set in motion a fast-moving chain of events in which the state supreme court will request briefs, hear arguments and render a decision within 30 days. The court set April 25 as the day for arguments.

“It’s a fresh start as far as the court is concerned,” Adams said from her home in Garland. “I think we’ll prevail.”

Kathleen McGee, who appealed the certification of the petitions, was equally confident in that the supreme court would rule in her favor.

“Our arguments were very strong in the Superior Court. I think they’re going to be that strong or stronger in the supreme court,” she said.

Attorney General Steven Rowe, who backed the certification of the petitions, was meeting with state election officials and planned to decide Thursday whether his office would actively participate in the appeal, said spokesman Chuck Dow.

Meanwhile, Rowe’s office released an 11-page letter to House Speaker John Richardson, D-Brunswick, which says a number of provisions in the TABOR initiative itself violate the Maine Constitution.

Rowe said TABOR seeks to implement changes that cannot be made by statute, and only by a constitutional amendment. The initiative seeks, for example, to surrender part of the Legislature’s power of taxation to voters and a minority of the members of the House and Senate, and to restrict the Legislature’s exercise of emergency lawmaking powers, Rowe wrote.

“Accordingly, we believe that a court would likely find that these provisions of the TABOR initiative violate Maine’s Constitution,” Rowe wrote.

TABOR would limit annual spending increases for state and local governments and schools to the rate of inflation plus increases in population. The proposal also calls for excess revenues to be returned to taxpayers and to a rainy day government fund.

To get it on the ballot, organizers needed at least 50,519 valid signatures. On Oct. 21, 2005, a Friday which was treated as the deadline, petitions containing 54,127 signatures were filed with the secretary of state.

Critics say Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap erred in allowing an additional 4,024 signatures to be submitted on the next business day, Monday, Oct. 24. Without those additional signatures, the petitioners failed to meet the threshold.

Dunlap contended he had the discretion to count petition signatures submitted by proponents after what had been widely regarded as a statutory filing deadline.

But Marden ruled that in working to protect the rights of the petitioners Dunlap overlooked the rights of other Mainers.

Maine is already feeling the first impact of a property tax reform effort that dates to a citizen initiative focusing on local school funding that was approved by referendum in June 2004. Subsequent legislation imposed annual growth limits on government spending.

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