AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage said he’d work to ban the sale of 50-milliliter alcohol containers if the Legislature passes a widely supported bill to extend the state’s bottle deposit law to include the so-called “nips.”
The Republican governor’s threat came the same day that the Maine Senate voted 32-3 to approve the bill. It aims to place a 5-cent deposit on the plastic bottles because they’re being increasingly discarded as waste along public roads and highways.
That’s in part because they’re exploding in popularity: Maine sold 8.4 million nips in the 2016 fiscal year — a number that has grown by 40 percent in each of the past five years, according to testimony from state liquor regulators, who projected sales above $12 million in the next year.
But in a Tuesday news release, LePage said the bill “threatens jobs, increases costs to do business and puts the state’s financial health at risk.” If the bill passes, he said he’ll both veto it and direct Maine liquor regulators to work with State Liquor and Lottery Commission to ban nips.
“If the Legislature is really concerned about litter, delisting nips will ensure that they are not sold in Maine, and fewer of them end up as litter,” he said.
LePage’s statement blasted the proposal for taking an estimated $1 million in added liquor contract costs under the bill out of the liquor fund and called out Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Environmental and Natural Resources Committee.
The governor said the senator “said he would call my bluff” on delisting nips and that a legislator “should know better” than to do that. Reached on Tuesday, Saviello denied that.
He said his committee, which worked on and endorsed the bill, was faced with two problems around nips: littering and driving under the influence. So it settled on the existing deposit law to solve them.
The committee never considered banning nips altogether. But Saviello said he may have even voted for a bill that did, saying “I win both ways” no matter what LePage does.
The Senate vote followed a 111-34 vote in the House of Representatives last week on the bill, sponsored by Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio, D-Sanford. The Legislature can override a veto with two-thirds support in both chambers.
However, the state could lose revenue. Maine made $3 million off of nips in the 2016 fiscal year, according to figures provided to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. If Maine sells $14 million in 2018, Saviello said it would equal $6 million in profit, which he argued would offset costs in the bill.
“That’s not my decision to walk away from $6 million,” Saviello said. “That’s someone else’s decision.”