Gov. Janet Mills published the following radio address on Wednesday, finally weighing in decisively against a campaign by the Maine Democratic Socialists of America and national environmental groups to seize Maine’s electrical utilities and place them under government control. The plan is supported by some Maine lawmakers, including Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland).
When you walk into the voting booth this November 7th, there will be a whopping eight referendum questions for your consideration – and a few of them have enormously high stakes for Maine and for our future.
Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.
Now I don’t feel the need to weigh in on every question, but there is at least one that I am pretty concerned about – Question 3, An Act to Create the so-called Pine Tree Power Company.
In its simplest terms, Question 3 would force CMP and Versant to sell their assets to a new public power authority, called Pine Tree Power, through eminent domain.
Proponents of Question 3 use slick slogans like “Maine, not Spain” and poll-tested talking points about returning power to the people.
Sounds good, right? Well, journalist H.L. Mencken once said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
And that’s how I feel about Question 3.
Here are my three main concerns:
First, the cost. Question 3 will cost Maine people as much as $13.5 billion in borrowed money. That’s more than the entire biennial budget for the State of Maine. And can you imagine the interest payments on $13.5 billion? The cost alone leaves me very concerned that we are proposing to mortgage the future of our children who are going to have to foot this bill years down the road.
And would it lead to lower electricity costs? Well, the Office of the Public Advocate has said there is no guarantee that the price of electricity would come down in the long run under Question 3. And independent analyses indicate that the cost of electricity would likely increase in the short-term and another increase in rates is not what we need.
Second, the structure. Question 3 creates a governing board of elected individuals – in other words, politicians, with no particular credentials. Electing people only injects a level of politics and partisanship into the delivery of our electricity. That’s the last thing we need, and, hey, I’m talking as a politician.
And what would this governing board of politicians be in charge of? Well, they would be required to contract with an operator to run the transmission and utility’s assets. An operator that has “familiarity with the systems to be administered.” So, somebody who looks a lot like CMP and Versant.
So, what we are really talking about here is adding a layer of bureaucracy and politics and partisanship over the existing structure of CMP and Versant and I just don’t see how this improves anything.
Third, the setbacks. Because Question 3 is a hostile take-over of our utilities with eminent domain, we are guaranteed to go to court and to be tied up in litigation for years, if not decades. That leaves our utilities in a dangerous state of limbo when we can least afford it. It also threatens to set back the progress we are making in modernizing the electric grid to achieve clean energy goals and address climate change.
Look, I strongly believe that Maine consumers deserve high quality, reliable, and competent service. That’s why two years ago, over the strenuous objections of the utilities, I introduced and signed into law legislation that sets minimum standards for service, increases penalties, and strengthens oversight of our utilities.
That’s what we should be doing – holding them accountable and improving their service, not launching a hostile take-over that will cost billions of dollars to Maine ratepayers, and inject partisanship into the delivery of our power, and delay the progress we’ve been making.
Like H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Question 3 presents a rosy solution, but, in reality, I just don’t see how it will improve our utilities or the services they provide. In fact, I fear it might just make things worse.
The stakes are high. And if you have doubts as I do, let’s not gamble with Maine’s future – please vote no on Question 3.
This is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.