Groups Challenging New Maine Health Tax, Driver’s License Laws

Maine election officials said this week that they’ve accepted applications from four groups that are challenging a pair of recently enacted laws, but the four groups could morph into two as the campaigns develop.

A group calling itself the Fed Up With Taxes coalition is leading a people’s veto proposal seeking to repeal new taxes to bolster the Dirigo Health program. They include tax increases on beer, wine, soda and other soft drinks, and a 1.8 percent surcharge on paid insurance claims.

A second proposal is broader and seeks to repeal the entire law revamping the state-run Dirigo program. The law includes market and finance reforms as well as the tax increases.

The other legislation targeted by people’s veto campaigns bolsters Maine driver’s license requirements to bring the state into closer compliance with the federal Real ID law. Among other things, the law requires that license applicants are in the country legally.

The twin challenges of each of the bills raise questions as to whether efforts to derail the respective laws will be combined. There was no clear answer on this week, but some of the leaders were leaving the door wide open to the idea.

“We are an open coalition and anyone who wants to lend their support, we welcome them,” said Newell Augur, leader of the Fed Up With Taxes group.

Stop Taxing ME, the group that wants to repeal the entire Dirigo reform law, is open to joining forces with the other campaign, said spokesman Aaron Sterling.

The Stop Taxing ME group submitted a proposal to repeal the whole law because it was not clear on whether a people’s veto effort can just target part of a law, said Sterling. But it is clearly the tax increases his group is targeting, he said.

Sterling said Stop Taxing ME will proceed independently for now “because we haven’t been approached by anyone else to team up,” but added, “We certainly would welcome that.”

Donna Bendiksen of Portland, a candidate for the Legislature and leader of one of the efforts to repeal the driver’s license law, had similar sentiments, saying, “We welcome all the help we can get.”

The leader of the other effort, Kathleen McGee of Bowdoinham, said her group’s intention is to combine forces in what she called a nonpartisan effort that has backing from all over the political spectrum.

“Yes, absolutely, we will be working together,” McGee said.

Bendiksen believes the law, which was passed under pressure from the federal Department of Homeland Security, will compromise privacy protections and discriminate against immigrants who are in the country legally.

“The Real ID law is not going to help. It’s just going to make it harder to get a job, to keep a job and to travel,” she said.

With the four campaigns’ applications complete, election officials will review them. “Barring any problems, the Bureau of Elections will soon provide the applicants with petition forms, so they can begin the work of gathering signatures from people who support their veto efforts,” Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said.

State election officials won’t eliminate one proposal or another because of the duplication, said Don Cookson, spokesman for Dunlap’s office. He said it would be up to the applicants to combine efforts if they choose to do so.

Once petition forms are provided to proponents, they will have until 5 p.m. on July 17 to submit at least 55,087 signatures in order to have their veto question appear on the statewide ballot in November.

The Dirigo Health and driver’s license laws have their defenders, most notably Gov. John Baldacci, who supported both bills before signing them last month.

The administration said changes were needed to restore the integrity and security of driver’s licenses, and that the law would protect the interests of people who want to board aircraft or enter a federal building without encountering the extra cost of getting a passport or other federal identification.

The governor has long championed Dirigo Health, which he said helps working families, small businesses and the self-employed.

The Maine Democratic Party, acknowledging the people’s veto efforts aimed at Dirigo, issued a statement saying Dirigo has saved Mainers $110 million in health care costs.

“Any effort to repeal recent funding legislation would seriously threaten what has been a critical safety net for individuals, families, and small businesses that otherwise would likely not be able to afford insurance at all,” the statement said.