2014 Gubernatorial Campaign

On LePage’s Prolific Veto Pen

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Gov - Sherrif - GardnerHeading to “Veto Day” at the State House, a newspaper headline asks, “Are LePage’s 179 vetoes leadership or extremism?”

Perhaps both – leadership on his part and extremism on behalf of Democratic lawmakers.

The high veto rate is a symptom of a disease that infected the 126th Legislature. Critics of Gov. Paul LePage would have you believe that this disease was obstructionist conservatives who want state government not to exist. But a competing theory, and, perhaps a better one, is that Democrats desired the obstructionist talking point and pursued it by sending LePage bills they knew he would veto.

To a certain extent, both sides are equally culpable in a high veto rate, which is a sign that the two political sides failed to understand and work with each other. But whereas LePage would probably rather not run his veto pen dry, Democrats are all too happy to waste taxpayers time on frivolous, foolhardy bills if it helps them advance a political campaign.

Let’s take a look at some of the bills LePage vetoed.

Studies on Studies

Several bills LePage vetoed were studies. In other words, the bring a bunch of bureaucrats together to talk about a problem without ever actually solving the problem. (See: Tax Expenditure Task Force).

In some instances, LePage rejected the use of taxpayer funds to simply talk about a problem. In others, he agreed with the intention behind a bill, but did not believe it would not accomplish anything valuable.  The following nine study proposal were vetoed: L.D. 146, L.D. 387, L.D. 555, L.D. 670, L.D. 752, L.D. 1201, L.D. 1362, L.D. 1281, and L.D. 1468. Sooner or later we’re going to need a study of all the studies.

Repeal of Successful Reforms

Liberal Democrats tried to repeal successful reforms made during the Republican-controlled 125th Legislature. Is it any surprise that LePage would veto a bill intended to erase major policy accomplishments?

These vetoes can be put squarely on Democrats, who could have used a little commonsense and foresight, saving taxpayers time and money in the process.

L.D. 161 and L.D. 225 would have rolled back market-based health insurance reforms that are already working to stem rate increases across the state. Allowing these bills to pass would have let outside groups that advocate for single-payer, government-run health care continue their assault on the free market system.

L.D. 671, An Act to Protect Charter Schools by Requiring Them to be Operated as Nonprofit Organizations, was a clear effort to undermine charter school Legislation passed in the last session. In his veto letter, LePage wrote, “It is sad to see bills focused on depriving students of educational choice land on my desk… Current law already requires charter school applicants to be nonprofit… However, this bill goes even further and adds new constraints to public charter schools, constraints beyond what traditional public schools face. “Why should public charter schools not have the same access to education service providers that other schools have?” Several other anti-charter school bills hit the circular file.

L.D. 1772 would have repealed rules passed pursuant to the metallic mineral mining law passed in the 125th Legislature. Rather than amend the law, Democratic lawmakers sought to reject rules crafted by the Department of Environmental protection. LePage’s veto stemmed from process objections. (Or perhaps the greedy metallic mineral miners are paying him off…)

Fee Hikes and Tax Increases

Everyone in Maine knows LePage wants the people to keep more of their money. That’s one of the reasons he vetoed the Legislature’s budget last year. That budget increases the sales tax and the meals and lodging tax, so of course he vetoed it.

L.D. 1479 was a politically contrived tax hike bill. LePage called a spade a spade and rejected it. He wrote, “The bill is straightforward. It attempts to delay a tax increase on phone service. First, I cannot accept – at any point – an increase of taxes on all phone services in the State. Delaying the inevitable is not really a delay. It will only increase the costs when we actually address the underlying problem. If it requires hard work to overhaul public policy that is what the Legislature is elected to accomplish. This is one of the clearest examples of simply punting a hard issue until after an election.”

L.D. 405 and L.D. 911 would have raised vehicle and four-wheeler fees of Maine people. This veto was as predictable as the rising sun.

Authoritarian Bills

On two instances, LePage vetoed bills because they represented an overreach of state government’s authority.

L.D. 468 would have forced public colleges and universities to ban smoking on campus. Although he agreed with the aim to make people healthier, LePage said in his veto letter, “I believe universities, colleges and Maine people can make their own decisions.” Sounds reasonable enough. Democrats’ indignation at this veto might just as well be directed at colleges and universities who have not already complied voluntarily.

L.D. 272 was titled, An Act To Reduce Youth Cancer Risk. How could LePage veto a bill with such a title? In truth, this bill would have prevented teens from tanning – even with parental consent. LePage vetoed it because it would cause the state to infringe on parents’ right to raise their children.

Do these vetoes mean that LePage supports lung cancer and skin cancer? Of course not. But they do mean that he believes individuals and institutions are capable of making their own decisions.

Dumb Bills

The biggest category of LePage vetoes is dumb bills – something LePage typically points up in his veto letters.

LePage vetoed L.D. 1543 because he doesn’t think politicians should spend tax dollars on parties. Crazy, right? He wrote, “The Democrat majority should have listened to the objections of Republicans on this bill. In a time when tax increases are being forced on the Maine people, letting these rules go into effect would allow politicians to spend taxpayer dollars on parties after their elections. While I have objections to the entire concept of welfare for politicians, I must ask: why can we not all agree that taxpayer dollars should not subsidize post-election parties? Is that truly the best use of the money we take from hardworking Mainers? For me, the answer is no.”

LePage vetoed L.D. 1858, a supplemental budget bill, because it used gimmicks to achieve balance. “This bill is another example of kicking the can down the road so the controversial and tough decisions can be made after the next election,” he wrote in his veto letter. “This budget sets priorities based on a partisan political agenda, not on the best interest of Mainers.”

How bone-headed of LePage to veto L.D. 491! Except that, as he noted in his veto letter, this same bill was vetoed by Gov. John Baldacci. Several other bills, including bills to bring single-payer health care to Maine, have been introduced several times before and vetoed by other governors, including LePage.

The governor lauded the intent of L.D. 598, Resolve, Directing All Relevant Agencies of State Government To Work in Concert with a Plan To End and Prevent Homelessness To Ensure That Resources Are Available To End Homelessness in the State, but nonetheless vetoed it. Does this mean LePage supports homelessness? Of course not. As he explained in his veto letter, the resolve was unenforceable and vague.

With regard to L.D. 1390, An Act Regarding the Cancellation of Subscription Services, LePage wrote, “Attempting to enforce online companies to comply with this law will create a minefield of uneven treatment, penalizing businesses which are present in Maine while others go free if our courts cannot assert jurisdiction.”

On L.D. 1093, An Act To Clarify the Criteria of the Health Professions Loan Program as It Affects Physicians Practicing Neurology-psychiatry, LePage wrote: “This bill would provide student loan forgiveness for a single individual through the FAME health professions loan program… Changing the rules of entire programs to benefit specific individuals is not something the Legislature should take lightly.” (Better ask Sen. Troy Jackson about that one…)

LePage’s veto of L.D. 1232 came with a straightforward explanation. He wrote, “This bill does not have any legal effect, since a future legislature can simply pass another law “notwithstanding” this one. If it was put forward solely to score political points against a legislator or governor by claiming that future budget proposals are “illegal,” then I am disappointed for Maine people.”

Vetoing L.D. 1235 struck a victory for transparency in school spending. LePage explained, “This bill would leave towns free to spend state money without state input… Letting this bill become law would do little more than reduce transparency and accountability in school construction by allowing accounting tricks to hide the cost of decisions made by local officials.”

Vetoing L.D. 1451 staved off on little part of a growing bureaucracy. LePage wrote, “For years, approximately 20 percent of workforce investment funds have been spent on actual skills training, with the remainder squandered on overhead and administration… Adding more bureaucracy by having local boards automatically sit on the State board will simply slow things down and stop us from focusing on the goal: putting Mainers back to work.”

Did It, Already Doing It

In some instances, LePage liked a bill so much he vetoed it so he could bring its prescribed changes into effect more expediently. L.D. 610, Resolve, To Review and Amend the Rules Regarding Hospital Charity Care Guidelines, falls into that category.

In other cases, LePage did the due diligence lawmakers should have and found the bill to be duplicitous: For L.D. 745, he wrote, “L.D. 745 reinvents the wheel on many efforts already underway…” On L.D. 777, he wrote, “Maine law already protects working mothers who breast-feed… I firmly believe those matters are best left to the courts or the court of public opinion.” On L.D. 1044, he wrote, “Maine prosecutors have the ability to exercise discretion on possession charges already.”

Many more duplicitous bills got axed by LePage, resulting in no change of policy but a reduction of cost and bureaucracy.

Unaffordable

Several of LePage’s vetoes involve Medicaid expansion. If Democrats wanted to get LePage’s veto total up above 300, they could have simply introduce a few more versions of proposals to put more people on welfare – all would have been vetoed like L.D. 1066.

On L.D. 1366, LePage wrote, “I have heard time and again from teachers, principals and administrators that Maine’s high cost of education is due to continued unfunded mandates from Augusta. If the Legislature truly believes this policy is necessary and requires a state law, then the bill should be resubmitted and funded with a reasonable estimate of total costs, instead of directing the Department of Education to do the impossible, creating a statewide program at no cost.”

The veto of LD 1829, An Act to Require the Department of Health and Human Services to Report Annually on Investigations and Prosecutions of False Claims Made under the MaineCare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Food Supplement Programs, got a lot of attention. Why would LePage veto a bill designed to combat well reform? As he succinctly explained in his veto letter, “If the Democrats were serious about program integrity, they would have funded this work. Instead, they stripped the funding mechanism off this bill so no money could be appropriated for performing these tasks.”

Democratic Vetoes

If we’re going to judge LePage by his vetoes, then it’s only fair to apply the same test to Democratic lawmakers. What kind of bills did Democrats effectively veto?

Two bills to protect workers’ paychecks from union bosses never made it to LePage’s desk. Every single welfare reform bill was rejected. A popular bill to protect victims of human trafficking was initially vetoed. Democrats couldn’t muster the courage to help teenagers get summer jobs at movie theaters and bowling alleys. A bill to let Mainers vote on tax reduction was blocked. The list goes on.

The difference between LePage’s vetoes and Democrats’ obstruction is that LePage has provided a concise explanation of every single veto. Take some time to browse LePage’s veto letters and what emerges is a consistent philosophy grounded in a belief that limited government is good government. Hyperventilating over the quantity of vetoes while ignoring the circumstances of each veto is surely a sign of small minds.

Steve Robinson
Editor, The Maine Wire

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson was the editor of The Maine Wire from 2013 through 2014. A native of Dexter, Maine, Robinson is a graduate of Bowdoin College, and is currently a Producer for The Howie Carr Show in Boston.

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