Political activist Mary Adams says it’s been a “bumpy road” but she’s optimistic her petition drive to put a statewide spending cap on the 2006 ballot will get the signatures needed by an Oct. 21 deadline.

On that day, time runs out for the initiative, which has had a year to get the 51,500 signatures required to put it before voters.

The clock is ticking on several other citizen initiatives, including a tax on water extracted in Maine – largely aimed at Poland Springs – which expires this Friday, and a ban on slot machines, facing a filing deadline of Oct. 4.

Adams is behind the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) proposal first adopted in Colorado, but now being pushed across the county. It ties the amount of state taxes and fees the legislature can spend to the rate of inflation and population growth, and requires any overrides to go out to the public for a vote. Any revenue collected in excess of the cap is returned to taxpayers, save 20 percent, which goes into a rainy-day account.

“I think we’re going to do it,” said Adams, who claims her group got 28,000 to 30,000 signatures at the polls last November. Her corps of volunteers and now some paid circulators are hitting the county fairs and other big-crowd events for the final push.

“It’s been a bumpy road,” said Adams. “If you’ve ever been in a pickup truck on 20 miles of bumpy road, you know what it’s like.”

Adams, who became an anti-tax folk hero, of sorts, 30 years ago when she helped overturn a statewide property tax to support education, said, “I could write a book about what’s happened.”

Support from the Republican Party was slow in coming, although it’s there now, she said, and attention was diverted by the People’s Veto campaign to overturn Gov. John Baldacci plan to borrow money to fund the state budget.

And, Adams’ husband had a heart attack just about the time she would have been out organizing signature drives at local Town Meetings.

He’s on the mend now, and she is looking forward to a “Tea Party” in Windham this Saturday where everyone’s been invited to bring their latest property tax bills for a ritual burning.

“They’re going to see just exactly who got relief out of LD1,” she said.

LD1 was the tax reform bill proposed by the governor, which was amended and ultimately passed. It outlined the timetable for ramping up state education aid to 55 percent of the costs, and also put in place spending caps at the state and local level.

Unlike TABOR, the state cap now in place is based on general fund spending versus revenue collected and excludes aid to education until the state hits the 55 percent share mark. It also can be overridden by a simple majority of the Legislature, whereas TABOR requires a two-thirds majority of the Legislature and a majority of voters statewide.

“It’s the Palesky wolf dressed up in Mary Adams sheep clothing,” said Patrick Colwell, former Speaker of the House and now chairman of the state Democratic Party. He said voters defeated the property tax cap promoted by Carol Palesky and voted to support the state’s picking up of 55 percent of education costs.

“We’re not going to be able to keep that promise,” if budgets are capped as proposed under TABOR, Colwell said.

“Obviously we’re concerned about it,” Colwell said of the signature drive, but he believes even if Adams gets the needed signatures, the voters will defeat it at the ballot box.

And, he pointed out, TABOR is running into trouble in its home state.

Colorado voters in November will be asked to amend TABOR because the state capped itself into a hole when revenues fell during the most recent recession and now can’t pay for increased aid to education, also mandated by the voters there, and other needs like highway improvements.

The amendment would suspend TABOR for five years, allowing the state to spend revenue generated by state taxes in excess of the cap instead of giving it back to taxpayers, according to a Web site put up by proponents. More than $3 billion could be spent by the state if the amendment passes.

Even Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who was in Maine last year to promote the TABOR petition drive, is supporting the amendment because the state is out of cash.

National pro-TABOR forces are encouraging a letter-writing campaign via the Internet to tell “Governor Bill Owens and the tax-and-spend liberals in the state legislature” to keep their hands off the money.

Conservative Republicans say Owens has ruined any chance he had for higher political office by turning against the spending cap.

“The lesson to be learned from Colorado is that a governor who could have been president, once he turned on TABOR, ended his national ambitions,” Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform was quoted as saying on CNN.

A TABOR-like proposal is on the ballot in California this year, and could be considered in Ohio, Nevada and Arizona in 2006.


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