This time, names gathered by Carol Palesky’s group are approved.

AUGUSTA – A campaign calling for a property tax cap has collected enough signatures to force a referendum next November, Maine election officials ruled Monday.

Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky’s ruling marks the first time in three tries the Maine Tax Action Network has gotten past the petition-certification stage of the state’s initiative process.

Campaign leader Carol Palesky said her proposal has popular appeal and is confident it can win approval of voters. Palesky said she expects to encounter vigorous opposition to her tax cap proposal and plans to start raising money for a campaign for the cap.

The initiative would cap property taxes at $10 per $1,000 of assessed value, based on values in 1996-97. It would also limit assessment increases to 2 percent a year while the property’s ownership remains in a family.

It is separate from a tax-related referendum proposal that failed passage on its initial vote in November. That proposal, backed by the Maine Municipal Association, seeks to require the state to pay 55 percent of funding for public education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The latter “carry-over” question is scheduled to appear on the June 2004 ballot, Gwadosky said.

Both Palesky’s and the Maine Municipal Association’s proposals have caused a great deal of concern in the Legislature. State officials say the MMA measure would cost the state too much money if enacted all at once, and are nervous about the impact Palesky’s proposal would have on towns and cities’ budgets.

Palesky said hers is the only proposal that assures real tax relief.

“I’ve seen so many letters to the editor, people I don’t even know” writing in support of her plan, said Palesky.

The tax cap leader failed on two earlier attempts to get her proposal on the ballot. She was convicted of forgery in 1997 for changing the dates on referendum petitions to make invalid signatures appear valid.

In a subsequent effort, Gwadosky raised questions about the legal status of a petition circulator who worked for Palesky’s campaign. The state supreme court in 2002 ruled that Gwadosky was correct to reject more than 3,000 signatures collected by the circulator, who lied about his identity and then disappeared.

That kept the tax cap question off the ballot again.

On Monday, Gwadosky said the latest petitions “have been reviewed carefully and thoroughly.”

Of the 64,401 signatures submitted to election officials, 13,146 were excluded for various reasons, mostly because they were not certified by local registrars as belonging to registered voters in communities.

The 51,255 signatures certified are 736 more than the minimum required to get the question on the ballot.

On the Net:

Tax Cap legislation: http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/pets02/leg4.htm



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