A debate about whether Maine should shift some of its tax burden to upper earners was rekindled Friday, when Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap validated a citizen initiative to put the question to voters this November.

The proposal to implement new payroll taxes on income above $127,200 annually to fund a universal home health care system has garnered enough signatures to put the bill up for consideration, Dunlap said in a news release.

The new Home Care Universal Trust Fund that the initiative would create would provide daily in-home living services for people older than 65 and people with disabilities, regardless of their income. It would be funded with payroll taxes on income above $127,200 annually, which is the cutoff for social security employment taxes. Employees and employers would both contribute a sum equal to 1.9 percent of the employee’s income, for a total of 3.8 percent, which supporters say would generate approximately $132 million per year.

The Legislature can either enact the referendum — which is near impossible in the current political climate — or send it to the Nov. 6 ballot. The Maine People’s Alliance and other groups spearheaded the signature gathering, which kicked off in late October of 2017.

Much of the 2017 legislative session centered around a 2016 referendum that created a new tax on income above $200,000 to benefit public schools — but that measure was repealed by Gov. Paul LePage and legislative Republicans who said it would be ruinous to the state’s economy.

Dunlap announced that 64,842 signatures were verified out of nearly 75,000 that were submitted. A minimum of 61,123 signatures are required for a citizen initiative in Maine.

The secretary of state’s office is also in the process of verifying signatures from supporters of ranked-choice voting, who are attempting a people’s veto of a law enacted last year that that stalls and could ultimately nullify the voting method in Maine. The deadline for Dunlap’s office to act on those petitions is March 5.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.