AUGUSTA — The Maine Republican Party will move forward with a proposed 2016 referendum question to reduce taxes and reform welfare at once, even though Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Tuesday that it should be split into two different questions.

Dunlap’s decision is a recommendation for now, but he said he has the authority to place two different questions on the ballot next year if it qualifies and after a legislative vote on the measure.

However, Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett said Tuesday that the party will go forward as if there will be one question, notwithstanding Dunlap’s advice.

“I look forward to having a conversation with the secretary of state about that, if and when the time comes,” he said.

Two questions may make it harder for both issues to pass, and to get them to the ballot, Republicans must mount a herculean effort to gather more than 61,000 signatures and get them to the state by Feb. 1.

Dunlap, a Democrat, said in a Monday letter to Bennett that the questions should be split by Maine law, an argument he alluded to earlier this month. The law doesn’t explicitly say there must be one question for each issue on a referendum, but it recommends a “separate question for each issue,” calling that the “proper suggested format.”

In an interview, Dunlap called taxes and welfare “disparate policy issues” that were “like taking wildlife management and mixing it with state holidays” and would do a disservice to voters, who may have different opinions on the respective welfare and tax changes.

“Welfare and taxation are totally different from each other,” he said. “As far as legislation goes, they’re totally separate.”

The party’s plan, submitted to Dunlap in September, would aim to eliminate income taxes by reducing the rate between 2018 and 2021, dedicating state liquor revenue to bring it down afterward. It also would place new restrictions on cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, food stamps and other benefits.

The Maine Republican Party has noted that the law says Dunlap must consider whether the issues in question “are severable and can be enacted or rejected separately without negating the intent of the petitioners” and said earlier this month that splitting the proposed question would “negate our intent.”

“As I’ve said from the very beginning, this is a basket of reforms that, I think, are connected,” Bennett said. “This is about making Maine a state of opportunity and prosperity.”

For now, the party can move forward with its effort and should be able to start collecting signatures in early November after a fiscal impact review from the Office of Fiscal and Program Review, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research arm.


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