April 06, 2020

State downs petition for tax cap, again > Valid signatures lacking

AUGUSTA — A second batch of tax cap petitions submitted by convicted forger Carol Palesky and an anti-tax group did not contain enough valid signatures to force a referendum, state elections officials announced Friday.

Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky said the group came close to the 51,131-signature threshold, but fell 1,302 short.

Gwadosky also alleged that the latest batch contained 744 cases of tampering on petitions circulated in municipalities including South Portland, Portland and Bangor.

He said some of those had been referred to the state attorney general.

Palesky faces sentencing next week for an aggravated forgery conviction stemming from the previous submission of another batch of petitions.

Referendum advocates have five days to appeal Gwadosky’s ruling in Superior Court. Gwadosky said Friday he was confident his determination would stand.

“We are very comfortable with the count,” he said.

The Maine Taxpayers Action Network plans to appeal the ruling, said spokesman Tom Crandall.

“We will be reviewing the alleged invalid signatures,” he said.

Crandall also expressed confidence that the ruling could be overturned.

“I’d say that the odds are good that we actually will make muster,” he said.

More than three years ago, Palesky and the Maine Taxpayers Action Network set out to force a statewide vote on a proposal that would limit the amount of revenue any city or town could collect to 1 percent of its 1994-95 assessed property value. The valuation could be increased up to 2 percent a year if inflation is at least that much.

The advocates originally received approval to circulate a citizen initiative petition on Oct. 14, 1994. State law sets a maximum circulation period for such petitions at three years, but decrees that no signature can be older than one year at the time a petition is filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

The group’s Jan. 29, 1996, attempt to file the petition was rejected for lack of sufficient signatures. Elections officials threw out thousands, alleging widespread tampering. In all, 22,502 signatures were discounted for alleged fraud, and the original petition drive was declared to have fallen short by more than 29,000 signatures.

Palesky and the group submitted new petitions in December 1996 and in August, September and October of last year, again attempting to get the tax cap proposal on the ballot.

In ruling that the submissions failed to include enough valid signatures this time around, Gwadosky said Friday the instance of tampering he alleged did not affect the outcome.

Of 65,548 signatures submitted, Gwadosky said 7,243 were excluded by local officials and 7,732 more were excluded by his office, not counting the 744 discounted for suspected fraud.

“The result is, the numbers don’t add up. They came very close, though,” Gwadosky said.

He pegged the number of valid signatures at 49,829.

Because Oct. 14, 1997, marked the end of the referendum advocates’ three-year circulation period, backers of the property tax cap initiative would have to file a new application with the secretary of state to resume their drive.

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