AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage’s use of the veto pen will make for a busy day for lawmakers on Thursday, reigniting a debate about whether the governor’s endgame judgment of bills is obstructionism or leadership.
LePage has racked up a record-breaking 179 vetoes during his first term, including 46 so far that will go to the Legislature on Thursday to be either sustained or overridden. The governor issued 16 new vetoes late Tuesday afternoon and is widely expected to issue more vetoes Wednesday, which according to comments he made over the weekend at the Republican State Convention is a point of pride.
“When I leave here today and go back to Augusta, I’ve got a stack of bills to look at and read before Monday morning, because the deadline for vetoes is coming up,” said LePage to the convention attendees on Saturday. “I bought several veto pens, and I’m not afraid to use them … but my pens are starting to run low on ink.”
Democrats and their allies have assailed LePage continually for his vetoes. House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said Monday that LePage’s opposition to some bills — which at times have had support from all 186 members of the Legislature — unravels weeks, months or, in some cases, years of difficult bipartisan compromise. LePage’s veto of a more than $30 million supplemental budget bill, which was enacted with the support of all but eight lawmakers, is a prime example.
“I’ve learned not to be shocked by very much, but [sustaining the budget veto] would be a train wreck, and I think Republicans realize that,” said Berry. “A positive observation here is that the Legislature has in the last two years shown its ability to work together when the governor abdicates his responsibilities to create bipartisan budget bills and other bills that are of crucial importance to the economy.”
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said LePage’s prodigious use of vetoes says more about Democrats using their majority to enact bills they know the governor won’t support than it does about any obstructionism by the governor.
“With a conservative governor and an activist liberal majority in the Legislature committed to unseating him this year, we’re bound to get a lot of political ‘trap bills’ that represent bad public policy but yet go well in a campaign ad,” said Fredette in a written response to questions from the BDN. “Democratic politicians who say the governor should have worked with the Legislature on some of these bills to prevent a veto are being completely disingenuous. The Democrats care little what their Republican colleagues in the Legislature think, let alone what the governor thinks.”
However, Fredette said he doesn’t expect Republicans to sustain every veto, most notably the budget bill, which includes new funding for nursing homes and the reduction of waiting lists for developmentally disabled people awaiting services. LePage, who was the first governor in recent Maine history to sit out the development of a supplemental budget, said he opposes the bill because that money won’t start flowing soon enough and because of another provision that aims to close $20 million of the revenue gap by permanently pushing back the schedule of Medicaid payments to hospitals and other providers by up to 12 days.
“I will be voting to support the budget because although I share the governor’s concerns about the funding mechanism, Republicans scored a major win for Mainers by ensuring that Medicaid expansion funds for able-bodied adults will be used instead to help nursing homes and the disabled,” said Fredette.
There are other important and long-debated bills at risk of failure because of LePage vetoes, including teacher evaluation rules, a rejection of large-scale metallic mineral mining rules and a measure to expand Medicaid coverage of family planning services. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England said LePage’s veto of the family planning bill would be disastrous for more than 13,000 low-income women who earn less than $23,000 a year in a household of one and need cancer screenings, testing and treatment for STDs and other services. LePage said he opposed it because most of the women it would serve already can acquire those services by signing up for health insurance under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act.
“Gov. Paul LePage put his own personal beliefs over women’s health when he vetoed this important measure,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Rep. Jane Pringle, D-Windham, who sponsored the bill, said LePage’s veto ignores the fact that the federal government would bring in $9 of federal money for every $1 spent by the state.
“This measure would more than pay for itself and would help the state see significant savings,” said Pringle in a written statement.
Well-known conservative activist Mary Adams said during the weekend GOP convention that Maine should be grateful for LePage’s use of the veto.
“This session had just two things going for it, our Republican governor who used its veto pen and a Republican Senate with enough power to sustain his vetoes,” she said.
“The vetoes boil down to a fundamental disagreement about the role of government in our lives. … The high number of vetoes is not a bad thing; it’s just a product of our fundamentally different visions for Maine’s future,” said Fredette.
Berry doesn’t buy it and repeated what he and other Democrats have been saying about LePage for years.
“The governor with these vetoes has really shown an astonishing new level of extremism and poor leadership,” he said. “The good news is that I think this is a CEO whose own people are increasingly seeking some distance from him. It’s hard to defend this kind of incompetence and extremism.”
The House and Senate, which need two-thirds majority votes to override a veto, convene on Thursday. Watch bangordailynews.com for more veto coverage.
Bangor Daily News staff writer Mario Moretto contributed to this report.