AUGUSTA (AP) – As business organizations weigh whether to undertake a referendum challenge to a new funding mechanism for Maine’s Dirigo Health program, state election officials say one people’s veto proposal already has been received.

On Friday morning, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap wrote to ranking lawmakers, Baldacci administration officials and others to report that, “Yesterday afternoon we received an application for a people’s veto initiative as provided by Article IV, part third, section 17 of the Maine Constitution.

“The application was to repeal provisions of ‘An Act to Continue Maine’s Leadership in Covering the Uninsured’, LD 2247, Public Law Chapter 629. We are working on the language of the question at this hour,” Dunlap wrote.

A leading participant in the fledgling repeal drive, Treasurer Aaron Sterling of the Greater Bangor Young Republicans, said his group and its allies elsewhere, including in the Maine Federation of Young Republicans, want to scrap the pending law in its entirety.

On April 16 as he signed the legislation, Gov. John Baldacci acknowledged that the new Dirigo funding scheme raised “issues that have caused some consternation” but said the importance of the health care measure was “expanding access to working families and small businesses.”

To meet Dirigo’s roughly $50 million annual operating budget, the bill replaces an indeterminate savings offset payment targeting insurers with a 1.8 percent surcharge on paid claims. It also imposes new taxes on beer, wine and soda at the distributor level and taps surplus funds from the Fund for a Healthy Maine, the state’s repository for tobacco settlement money.

A tax on beer currently set at 25 cents a gallon will rise to 54 cents a gallon, amounting to a total of 30 cents on a six pack. Brewers producing 100,000 barrels or less a year are exempt. A 30-cents-a-gallon tax on wine will go up to 65 cents, with vitners producing 20,000 gallons or less exempted. At the wholesale level, soda would be taxed at 42 cents a gallon with simple syrup taxed at $4 a gallon.

Baldacci administration officials said the measure would allow for limited new enrollment in the subsidized health insurance program, perhaps by late summer or early fall.

The director of the administration’s Office of Health Policy and Finance, Trish Riley, said program participation would probably remain in a range of about 17,000 or 18,000, including 5,000 or more MaineCare parents and 12,000 or more DirigoChoice policy holders.

The enacted measure includes some so-called market reforms favored by members of both parties.

Included are a reinsurance program through which Dirigo, which offers full cost and subsidized insurance, will pay for some major claims, a program to promote coverage for healthy young people and adjustments in allowable charges for high-risk and low-risk consumers.

To force a staewide people’s veto vote, organizers would have submit about 55,000 petition signatures within 90 days of last week’s legislative adjournment.

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