AUGUSTA - Maine election officials said yesterday that they have 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 be 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 yesterday, but some of the leaders were 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 target just part of a law, Sterling said. 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, 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.
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 ballot in November.
The Dirigo Health and driver's license laws have their defenders, most notably Governor John Baldacci, who supported both bills before signing them last month.
The Maine Democratic Party, acknowledging the people's veto efforts aimed at Dirigo, issued a statement Tuesday saying Dirigo has saved Mainers $110 million in healthcare 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.