May 23, 2019

Petition advocates collect signatures

AUGUSTA — Initiatives that gained support at the polls this week may produce 1997 referendums on gay marriages, property tax caps and slot machines, advocates said Thursday.

Volunteers for the same-sex marriage ban effort who fanned out over the state Tuesday collected well over the minimum of 51,131 signatures needed to force a vote, according to preliminary calculations by initiative leader Carolyn Cosby of Portland.

“It appears we will sail over the top,” said Cosby, adding that a formal announcement by her group is planned for next Tuesday. Cosby said dozens of her volunteers had not reported figures as of Thursday.

Assuming the minimum number of voter signatures is validated by state officials, the proposal will go to referendum unless the Legislature passes it first.

Cosby’s proposal would ban same-sex marriages in Maine and direct the state to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Tax-cap leader Carol Palesky of Topsham said volunteers who had reported in as of Thursday collected from 35,000 to 40,000 signatures.

Palesky said the campaign will not be impeded by her indictment last month on a charge of forging dates on tax cap petitions she submitted to the state earlier. If convicted, Palesky could be sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $20,000.

While dates on thousands of signatures turned in earlier allegedly appeared to have been altered, state officials said roughly 20,000 of them are still valid. Together with the signatures gathered this week, the campaign appears to have reached its goal, said Palesky.

The tax proposal seeks to limit annual increases in property taxes to 1 percent, plus the municipality’s share of debt service. Increases of up to 2 percent per year would be allowed for increases in property assessments. Palesky said 23 states have similar laws.

The harness racing industry is backing the proposal to legalize slot machines at agricultural fairs, commercial racetracks and off-track betting facilities.

As of Thursday, petition circulators had not reported how many signatures had been collected, said Sharon Terry, the initiative’s leader.

“The harness racing industry supports it so it can remain competitive with other states,” said Terry, who hopes the slot machines would draw customers to the racing facilities. She noted that thousands of the machines are being used in nonprofit clubs and bars throughout the state.

Also at some polling places were volunteers for an initiative to ease Maine’s law requiring reformulated gas to be sold at pumps in Maine’s seven southern counties as a clean-air measure.

The proposal would give motorists a choice between reformulated fuel and fuel not blended with additives that are blamed by some people for a variety of health problems.

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