The Maine Republican Party received approval Monday to circulate petitions for the governor’s proposal to slash the income tax and to reform welfare, setting off a scramble to get the petitions copied and distributed so signature-gatherers can tackle an ambitious goal of collecting more than 61,000 signatures within three months.

On the eve of the election, the party was working to have petitions printed and distributed to 140 polling places by Tuesday, Maine GOP Executive Director Jason Savage said.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said it would take an “unprecedented effort” for the party to get enough valid signatures of registered voters turned in to his office by Feb. 1.

But Savage predicted the party would be successful despite the short time frame that includes the holiday season. The party is pressing for a statewide referendum on two issues championed by Gov. Paul LePage, who vowed to go directly to the people after he failed to get the proposals approved in the Legislature.

“There’s certainly a challenge there, but at the same time there’s support behind this proposal. People are coming from all corners of the state to support it,” Savage said.

Election Day is important for referendum supporters because it gives them an opportunity to collect signatures from voters at hundreds of polling places statewide.

Also seeking to get proposals on the November 2016 ballot are supporters of legalized marijuana, background checks for firearm purchases, ranked-choice voting, a higher minimum wage and school funding.

Groups backing the other proposals already have been gathering petitions.

Even though the GOP is well organized, it still faces a big hurdle in collecting signatures by Feb. 1. And turnout at the polls is expected to be smaller because there are only a handful of statewide ballot questions. Dunlap predicted turnout of between 13 percent and 20 percent of eligible voters on Tuesday.

The GOP income tax proposal would cut the top rate from 7.15 percent to 4 percent over four years, and it provides a pathway for elimination of the income tax altogether after the state negotiates a new liquor contract and creates an income tax relief fund, Savage said. As for welfare, the proposal has several changes including mandating drug tests for certain benefits and eliminating benefits for asylum seekers.

There had been talk of a GOP proposal through the summer but the application and draft legislation weren’t submitted to state election officials until Sept. 23. The reviser of statutes had 15 days to consider the proposal, followed by another 15-day window for a fiscal review that was completed Friday, Dunlap said.

Dunlap said officials from his office met with GOP officials on Monday morning to give them the petitions.

The GOP now has 92 days to turn in the signatures.

“That’s a time frame that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. And the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting worse. So they definitely have their work cut out for them,” Dunlap said.

Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett expressed confidence that the party will meet the goal.

“We have a lot of energized, enthusiastic circulators who are chomping at the bit to get out there,” he said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.