AUGUSTA — The Maine Republican Party confirmed Friday that its initiative proposal to cut the state income tax and make changes to the welfare system won’t make the November ballot.

In a press statement, party Chairman Rick Bennett said that activists and volunteers will continue to collect the 61,123 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot but will wait until 2017 to put the bill before Maine voters. The announcement was not surprising, as Bennett had hinted in early January that the ballot drive for this year could fall short. The deadline to submit signatures for certification by state election officials is Monday. The deadline to submit signature petitions to municipal clerks for initial review was Jan. 22.

An informal Portland Press Herald survey this week of several of Maine’s largest municipalities showed that circulators of the Republican proposal had submitted low to modest numbers of petitions.

“I am immensely proud of and grateful for our team’s effort so far in a difficult signature-gathering environment in the compressed time frame we’ve had to work with,” Bennett said in the statement.

He added: “Given the number of variables on the 2016 general election ballot and the need to collect well above the required number of signatures due to several concerns relating to final certification with the Secretary of State, we have chosen to extend our petition initiative. When we file with the Secretary of State, we want to be sure there will be no doubt about our qualification for the ballot. While we have had a strong signature gathering effort across the state of Maine, the best chance we have to see this critical policy proposal passed is to continue on our current path.”

The first part of the proposed Republican Party referendum would ask voters if they want to reduce the state’s top income tax rate to 4 percent gradually over a four-year period. Maine’s top rate is now 7.15 percent.

The second part calls for a series of changes to welfare policy, many of which have been sought by some Republicans including Gov. Paul LePage, but have failed to get enough support in the Legislature. The welfare changes include requiring drug testing for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; instituting stronger work requirements; banning the use of food stamp funds to buy liquor, tobacco and other items; and making asylum seekers ineligible for benefits.

The party’s referendum bid has been viewed with skepticism from the outset. Some Republican activists worried that the effort would siphon too much money from the party treasury, leaving less for Republican legislative races.

The party had spent more than $40,000 overall on the ballot drive through the end of December.

Others believed that the party just couldn’t make the ballot in 2016; the bid was launched in late September and the final language for the legislation wasn’t printed until the day before Election Day – a crucial day for signature collection. Bennett told the Press Herald that the party was able to circulate petitions at 135 polling places by Election Day. There were 533 polling places open that day, according to the secretary of state.

 


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