AUGUSTA (AP) – Conservative activists turned in petitions for three citizen initiatives Monday, hoping to force statewide votes a year from now on measures to curb taxes and expand health insurance options in Maine.

Papers containing a total of 200,000 voter signatures were delivered to the secretary of state, setting the stage for campaigns on three referendums, including a revised version of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights that voters rejected in 2006.

The new TABOR-related measure would require voter approval of state tax increases and link hikes in local government spending to the rate of personal income growth unless voters give the green light to exceed that level.

A separate bill would slash the auto excise tax by about 50 percent for the first five years the vehicle is registered. The bill also promotes the purchase of hybrid vehicles by eliminating the sales tax and first three years of excise tax for hybrids.

The health insurance initiative would allow Mainers to buy private health plans already available in the five other New England states. Backers say individual insurance rates are up to 40 percent lower in those states and the new options would make it easier for Mainers to obtain affordable coverage.

The initiatives were drafted by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Portland, while the collection of signatures was spearheaded by Maine Leads, a citizens group based in Augusta.

“Each of these initiatives empowers Mainers with greater financial security, creates new jobs and a growing economy, and will help Maine get back on track to real prosperity,” said Roy Lenardson, executive director of Maine Leads.

Tarren Bragdon, chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, said the proposals give Mainers greater say in how their government operates while addressing key issues of tax relief, economic growth, cleaner air and health care reform.

The Maine Center for Economic Policy, a liberal think tank in Augusta, vowed to oppose the three proposals, saying they represent an ideologically driven attempt to place artificial limits on state spending and undercut state regulation of the health insurance market.

“It’s clear that these proponents are not interested in sustaining government services. They believe in eliminating as many government services as possible,” said Christopher St. John, executive director.

The petition signatures were collected at polling places last November and during subsequent efforts by volunteers, the Maine Heritage Policy Center said. It said the submission of three initiatives at the same time was a feat no groups had ever accomplished.

The petitioners claimed to have collected 69,000 signatures for the tax relief bill, 70,000 for the auto excise tax reduction and 62,000 on the health insurance question.

Certification of the petition signatures will begin in earnest in December, according to Don Cookson, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. The state faces a Feb. 27 deadline to determine if each of the initiatives has the required 55,087 signatures, which represents 10 percent of the total vote in the last gubernatorial election.


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