Separate campaigns to legalize marijuana, tax upper-income households to increase school funding, and create a casino specifically for a controversial gambling figure will know by Wednesday if they’ve qualified for the November ballot.

Wednesday is the deadline for state election officials to determine whether each of the campaigns have obtained the 61,123 signatures needed from registered Maine voters to get on the ballot. If state election officials certify all three ballot drives, Maine voters will be confronted with six referendum questions when they go to the polls in November. And, depending on how legislators vote later this session, that list could grow even longer.

At least three bills are under consideration this session that would ask voters to decide issues that the Legislature either can’t, or won’t, act on itself. One of the bills would revise the qualification criteria for citizen-initiated referendum questions, a change that requires altering the Maine Constitution and winning approval in a referendum. Two others, including a nascent proposal for a modest increase in the state’s minimum wage, would actually compete with two citizen-initiated ballot questions if lawmakers vote to send the issues to voters in November.

Details of the minimum wage proposal will be released Tuesday. The effort is backed by several business groups concerned that voters will approve a citizen initiative advanced by the Maine People’s Alliance, a progressive activist group. The alliance proposal would gradually increase Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $12 an hour by the year 2020. Business groups, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Restaurant Association and the Retail Association of Maine, are worried that the increase is too high and will hurt businesses. They’re working on a proposal that would modestly increase the minimum wage, but they have not yet announced how high.

It may not matter. That’s because Democrats in the Legislature are unlikely to send the business-initiated proposal to voters. Lawmakers considered several minimum wage proposals last year, but one bill, L.D. 92, died when the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives failed to agree on key details. Republicans supported a proposal that increased the minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2018, but also included a provision that blocked municipalities from setting a higher wage or extending the increase to tipped workers. Democrats rejected the municipal provision, but supported an increase to $9.50 an hour by 2018.

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said the proposal represented a compromise designed to gain the support of business interests. That didn’t happen, he said.

“A lot of progressives were upset with us (Democratic leadership) over that bill, but we tried to compromise with the business community,” McCabe said. “It didn’t have the tipped wage provision or even indexing. But they (businesses groups) didn’t support it.”

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a written statement that he didn’t think “it’s appropriate for the Legislature to interfere” in the referendum with a competing measure.

“Augusta has had years to act on the minimum wage. Even when the Legislature has passed increases, Gov. LePage vetoed them. Now the voters will have their say,” he said.

The citizen-initiated minimum wage effort has already qualified for the November ballot, as has a proposal to change the way Maine selects candidates for Congress and state office from a plurality-wins voting system to ranked-choice voting. A third question will ask Mainers if they want to strengthen background checks on gun sales.

On Wednesday, election officials will announce whether three other campaigns will qualify for the November ballot.

A campaign to give Las Vegas gambling promoter Shawn Scott the sole right to build a York County casino generated considerable scrutiny of its tactics during an aggressive signature-collection drive to qualify for the ballot. The campaign, Horseracing Jobs Fairness, submitted its petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office at deadline, following an expensive and controversial drive that raised questions about whether Maine needs to tighten and reform its referendum law.

Scott’s sister, Lisa Scott, financed the campaign, which at one point was paying petition circulators between $7 and $10 per signature during an aggressive push to qualify for the ballot. The campaign produced a number of complaints from voters about aggressive tactics, and more recently, petition circulators have complained that they haven’t been paid.

Early indications suggest that the campaign will have some difficulty qualifying. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said last month that there had been widespread reports from municipal clerks about shoddy work and duplicate signatures on petitions. In early February, the Bangor city clerk reported that of 6,869 signatures gathered in Bangor, only 2,913 appeared to be from registered city voters. The rest were invalid.

If Scott’s referendum qualifies, it could be joined by a competing measure currently under consideration in the Legislature. The legislative proposal would ask voters in southern Maine if they want a resort-style casino. The bill stalled last year, but was revived in early February after an 8-3 vote by the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. The bill still faces votes in the full Legislature.

Other groups, including the campaigns to decriminalize marijuana and to collect a tax “surcharge” from Mainers with over $200,000 in household income to increase education funding, will also learn Wednesday if their campaigns qualified for the ballot.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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