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Group Turns In Petitions In Bid To Expand Home Care Services In Maine

Mal Leary
Maine Public
Miri Lyons and other supporters of a citizen's initiative to expand home health care access talk to the media Friday after turning signatures in to the Secretary of State's Office.

The progressive advocacy group the Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) has a filed petition with the Secretary of State to force consideration of a citizens’ initiative that outlines a major expansion of home-based care for seniors and the individuals with disabilities. The initiative also seeks to increase pay to the providers of those services. The proposal immediately drew criticism from business groups.

The initiative would be funded by a proposed payroll tax on those earning more than $127,000 per year. The MPA says it filed 67,000 signatures with the Secretary of State. Just over 61,000 signatures are needed to force the legislature to consider the proposal.

At a State House news conference Friday, several speakers said low pay and lack of access to home care are creating problems for Mainers.

“Too many people with disabilities can’t get the care they need,” says Miri Lyons of Boothbay Harbor. “Homecare for all will fix that. It’s a guarantee that if you need help staying in your home, you will get it.”

But David Clough, state director of the National Federation of independent businesses, says that while the goal sounds worthy, it would require a new tax that would raise about $130 million per year from Maine’s highest earners, the group that he says is helping to grow the state’s economy.

“Once the taxpayers get an understanding of what the implications are, what this is all leading to, how expensive it’s going to be, and what the cost is going to be paid in lost jobs, lost businesses and opportunity, they will not support this at the ballot box,” he says.

Clough says he expects the business community to be united in opposing the measure, as it did on the income tax surcharge to pay for local schools that narrowly passed in a 2016 referendum. That measure was repealed by the Legislature.

But Ben Chin, the political director for the MPA, thinks voters will see the need to expand home care services to some of Maine's most vulnerable individuals.

“Most voters know there are a bunch of loopholes out there that allow the wealthy to not pay their fair share of taxes,” says Chin. “And so the payroll tax code is just the same as the income tax code. It’s just about closing those to make sure seniors and people with disabilities have the care they need.”

Chin expects the Legislature to send the question to voters once signatures are verified. The Secretary of State has 30 days to review the petition and make sure there are enough valid signatures to meet state constitutional requirements.

Clough hopes that if enough signatures are validated, lawmakers will hold a public hearing on the issue so that voters may start to understand the consequences of its passage.

This story was originally published Jan. 26, 2018 at 1:54 p.m. ET.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.