Carol Palesky, Topsham tax activist, dies at 78

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Carol Palesky, the former Topsham resident known for her fervent and prominent anti-tax crusades and her two convictions for white-collar crimes, has died. She was 78.

Palesky died peacefully last week with her family — including her husband of 42 years, Jacob Palesky — by her side, according to an obituary published in The Times Record in Brunswick.

Palesky grew up in New Jersey, but moved to Maine in 1975. Her first foray into public policy was at the local level, after the town of Topsham completed a revaluation of property taxes. She eventually filed multiple lawsuits against the town over taxes before officials got an injunction preventing her from filing any more.

She later formed the Maine Taxpayers Action Network, a coalition of anti-tax activists who opposed any and all tax increases but focused largely on property taxes.

In 1996, Palesky and her supporters turned in more than 55,000 signatures to get a tax cap proposal put on the ballot. But Maine’s secretary of state at the time found dates on some of the petitions had been falsified. Palesky was later convicted of forgery and sentenced to nine months in prison. 

That was not her only brush with the law. In 1987, she had been convicted of embezzling from a Brunswick law firm where she worked as a bookkeeper. She spent a year in prison on that charge. That same year, she was charged with robbing a bank in Mechanic Falls, although she was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Even after her jail sentence for falsifying petitions ended in 1998, she resumed her anti-tax activism. In 2004, she finally broke through and collected enough signatures to force a statewide referendum. It became widely known as the Palesky initiative, but it was defeated soundly by voters.

John Baldacci, who was governor at the time, said he did not have direct dealings with Palesky and did not share her view on taxes. Nevertheless, Baldacci remembers her passion.

“She was someone who felt very strongly and was very driven to want to make change. I think that underscores Maine itself,” the former governor said.

“She also led a citizens’ initiative at a time when it was entirely dependent on volunteers and shoestring budgets, which is very different from today.”

John Richardson, the former House Democratic leader from Brunswick, remembers Palesky as a staunch advocate for conservative tax policy, but not someone who could build consensus.

“Unfortunately for her, her zeal got away from her,” Richardson said. “She went too far and I don’t think she ever recovered.”

Joe Bruno of Windham, who was the House Republican leader when Palesky was trying to set tax policy through referendum, agreed.

“I don’t have anything bad to say about her. She was passionate about what she did,” Bruno said. “She had her followers, but she was never that big an influence over lawmakers.”

Palesky’s efforts helped pave the way for two other citizen-led, anti-tax initiatives in Maine, one in 2006, the other in 2009. Those both failed as well.

By then, Palesky had mostly receded from public life. 

Her obituary reported Palesky “enjoyed spending time with her family, gardening, fashion,” but also made mention of her passionate involvement with “government and tax issues.”

Carol Palesky, the former Topsham resident known for her fervent anti-tax crusades and her two convictions for white-collar crimes, died last week at 78. (Portland Press Herald file photo)

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