Gov. Paul LePage’s desire to improve Maine’s business climate is well noted. He sold voters on a business-friendly platform and his credentials as former general manager of Marden’s; launched “red tape” workshops for businesses to identify ideas for regulatory changes; designated “account executives” to reach out to businesses; and has stressed the need for lower energy costs and taxes to benefit businesses. In a symbolic gesture, he championed the well-known sign on I-95 in Kittery that declared the state “open for business.”
But when LePage vetoes 182 bills, it hurts his goals of growing jobs and enticing future businesses and employees to the state. Whether large or small, business owners need to know they can count on a functioning, predictable government. A record number of vetoes shows a vast disconnect between the executive branch and the Legislature, making it far harder than it already is to pass legislation. There are many deterrents to opening, growing or relocating a business, and the appearance of a dysfunctional government is a big one.
Some have pointed out that Democratic lawmakers proposed bills they knew wouldn’t pass LePage’s desk, to use in campaign material against him this November. There is some truth to that idea. (Consider, for instance, a bill to study transitioning Maine to an entirely government-run health care system, as opposed to having employer-sponsored health insurance.) In the same vein, Republican lawmakers proposed bills they knew had no chance of getting through a Democratic-led Legislature — such as a bill to nullify the Affordable Care Act.
But there’s a difference between proposing bills that have little chance of passing, and vetoing bills that do pass — often with bipartisan support. Of the 48 vetoes taken up by the Legislature on Thursday, 32 had previously received two-thirds support in at least one chamber. These bills represented months, if not years, of work, and tossing out so many represents an incredible waste of time. Some bills did deserve LePage’s kick, but clearly not this many. Usually, governors work with the Legislature to amend bills to safeguard passage, but not LePage. By disengaging from the legislative process, LePage has shown he’s not serious about governing.
To add insult to the harm he’s caused, LePage made light of his veto proclivity. “I bought several veto pens, and I’m not afraid to use them … but my pens are starting to run low on ink,” he told the Republican State Convention last weekend.
As a result, he has made state government look unstable and irrational — traits that do not elicit confidence among businesses or anyone considering moving to the Pine Tree State. The Legislature can override LePage’s vetoes, and it has in some cases, but many Republicans are loathe to challenge their leader. A record number of vetoes creates a record amount of risk for lawmakers and their constituents alike.
This many vetoes erodes people’s faith in the process, harms the state’s reputation and only makes Maine look less attractive to businesses, which need and want predictable and productive government. LePage may not be afraid of using his veto pen, as he said. But when he indulges himself, everyone else pays.