The black-and-white signs sprouting along Androscoggin County roadsides may have some motorists scratching their heads.

The signs read: “Tear down these tolls,” a message aimed at abolishing tolls along the Maine Turnpike system. But the message continues: “Support LD 120.”

That bill, making its way through the Maine Legislature, doesn’t seek to eliminate turnpike tolls. Instead, if successful, the legislation from Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, would allow anyone who drives the Maine Turnpike to be credited on his or her state income tax a penny for every mile driven on the toll highway.

Stavros Mendros, a former state lawmaker from Lewiston and owner of Olympic Consulting, calls the bill a “step in the right direction.”

He said he ordered roughly 100 of the signs on behalf of Ron Chicoine of Lewiston, who is a member of the Androscoggin County Commission. The two men had decided on that wording for the signs after attending a public hearing in Augusta on Brakey’s bill, which was held by the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation. Both spoke in favor of Brakey’s bill.

In his testimony before the committee, Mendros had urged Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Peter Mills to “tear down these tolls,” invoking the memorable sentiment expressed by the late President Ronald Reagan in his 1987 West Berlin speech, which urged demolition of the Berlin Wall.

The signs, which cost a total of roughly $400, have been erected along roads and streets in Androscoggin County towns as well as in the Twin Cities. Mendros said he didn’t charge a fee for his efforts in acquiring the signs and planting them on roadsides with Chicoine and other volunteers.

Chicoine said he is hoping his signs will raise awareness about Brakey’s bill.

“Something should be done about it,” Chicoine said of the tolls. He said motorists in Androscoggin County are hit especially hard.

“It’s just unfair,” he said.

Brakey said motorists who are forced to use the turnpike as their only viable route are being taxed double because they pay tolls while also paying a state gas tax, a portion of which is earmarked for maintaining Maine roads.

All three men point to the $5.50 cost of a round trip from Lewiston or Auburn to Portland on the Maine Turnpike compared to $2 for the same length of commute from Biddeford to Portland. There are no tolls to travel roughly that same distance from Brunswick to Portland and back on Interstate 295, they note.

If Brakey’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Lewiston lawmakers, should fail to pass muster before the Legislature, Mendros and Chicoine said they would consider launching a statewide referendum in November 2016 that would abolish tolls along the Maine Turnpike. Chicoine said he wouldn’t object to a single toll that would capture out-of-state traffic using state roads to do business and vacation in Maine.

But the way the tolls are, “this is the part of the state that gets screwed,” he said.

Chicoine said he would expect to have an easy time gathering the needed signatures to place that question on the ballot. He said he also knows a lot of people who have the money needed to pay for a statewide campaign.

Meanwhile, Brakey’s bill was voted out of committee with a divided report, but has not been presented to the full Legislature.

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