AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House on Tuesday allowed two more of Gov. Paul LePage’s vetoes to stand, the seventh and eighth of this legislative session. Tuesday’s votes sustained vetoes of a bill that would ban smoking on the state’s university and community college campuses and on a measure aimed at simplifying sales tax collections for online retailers.
The House voted 85-54 to override LePage’s veto of the anti-smoking bill, LD 468, falling short of the two-thirds threshold needed for an override. House members voted unanimously, 136-0, to sustain LePage’s veto of the sales tax bill.
The two bills previously passed the House and Senate without objections. Three Republicans — Reps. Stacey Guerin of Glenburn, Matt Pouliot of Augusta and Amy Volk of Scarborough — broke rank with their party to override the anti-smoking veto. Two Democrats broke with their party to uphold it: Reps. Charles Theriault of Madawaska and Andrew McLean of Gorham.
Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland, who sponsored the anti-smoking measure, said the law was needed to establish consistent policies on smoking from campus to campus. Although a majority of Maine’s public colleges and universities are smoke-free or soon will be, Chipman said the law would force action at the remaining campuses.
“We already prohibit smoking in all of our state parks and we’ve had no problem with that policy,” said Chipman, an independent. “This bill is pretty straightforward.”
Five of the seven University of Maine System campuses are smoke-free, and smoke-free policies will take effect at the remaining two, the University of Maine at Machias and the University of Southern Maine, on Sept. 1 of this year and Jan. 1, 2014, respectively, according to the university system.
In the Maine Community College System, one of the seven campuses is smoke-free: Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield. A second campus, Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, will be smoke-free starting Jan. 1, 2014, according to the community college system.
Maine Maritime Academy does not prohibit smoking on campus.
Republican House members said no anti-smoking law was necessary because administrators at most campuses have made decisions on their own to outlaw on-campus smoking.
“They’re already going there on their own because they recognize this is good policy for our universities,” said Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea.
In his veto message, delivered last week, LePage wrote that “Maine people are responsible enough to make their own decisions concerning tobacco.” He challenged anti-tobacco advocates to bring forward a bill that outlaws the substance altogether.
The sales tax collection bill, LD 319, would have directed Maine Revenue Services to study what’s needed for Maine to conform with the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, an interstate compact under which participants agree to simplify sales tax collections so it’s easier for multistate and online retailers to collect taxes and remit them to state coffers.
The Marketplace Fairness Act, which recently passed the U.S. Senate, would require most online retailers collect tax for sales in the 22 states that are full members of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement. Those 22 states have adjusted their sales tax collection laws to conform to the terms of the agreement.
Maine is listed as an advisory member whose sales tax laws don’t conform to the terms of the agreement, according to the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board.
Michael Allen, the state’s associate commissioner for tax policy, has estimated that Maine is losing up to $25 million a year in use taxes that are not being collected, largely by online retailers who don’t collect state sales tax.
In his veto message earlier this month, LePage cautioned the state against signing onto the interstate agreement, saying that addressing sales tax collections by online retailers is the responsibility of the federal government. A state government study of the issue, he added, would tie up valuable government resources.
“If the Legislature wants to pursue this study, it should look to its own office of fiscal review or provide my agencies with additional funding for the efforts,” wrote LePage. “Otherwise, it is merely an unfunded mandate on the executive branch.”
Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, the bill’s sponsor, encouraged his House colleagues to sustain the veto on the House floor Tuesday.
Berry, the House Democratic leader, said he struck an agreement with Republican Rep. Gary Knight of Livermore Falls to include his bill language in a bill sponsored by Knight, An Act to Require the Collection of Sales Tax by any Business Making Sales to Persons in Maine, that’s pending before the Legislature.
“I’m pleased that this agreement with our Republican colleagues will move us toward a level playing field for our Main Street businesses,” Berry said in a prepared statement.
Berry also said he has adjusted the text of his bill to address LePage’s concern about a state government study tying up state resources. The bill would now make the sales tax study the responsibility of the legislative, rather than executive branch, staff.