AUGUSTA, Maine — A $20 million proposal earmarked for research and development died in the Maine House on Thursday, where supporters of the measure were unable to come up with the votes needed to override a veto from Gov. Paul LePage.
The House vote, 88-53 in favor of overriding the veto, fell short of the two-thirds required and came about an hour after senators voted overwhelmingly, 29-6, to override the veto.
The research and development bond would have allowed the state to borrow $20 million to be awarded to Maine businesses, nonprofit organizations, university research labs and others as competitive grants from the Maine Technology Institute.
The bond would have specifically targeted organizations working in the renewable energy, biotechnology, marine technology, forestry, agriculture and precision manufacturing sectors.
Rep. Emily Cain, House Democratic leader, said in a statement that the failed override effort holds jobs that could have been created from the bonds package “hostage to tea party politics.”
“Maine needs jobs and we need jobs that pay good American wages and benefits,” the Orono Democrat said. “This is nothing short of a vote against jobs and future economic development.”
Lawmakers had approved the R&D bond proposal, along with four separate bond packages that will appear on November’s ballot, earlier this month during a brief two-day session. All five bond packages passed the House and Senate with support from more than two-thirds of lawmakers.
Debate in the House and Senate on Thursday focused mostly on the potential benefits of approving the R&D package. Supporters said Maine shouldn’t pass up an opportunity that could lead to significant economic development and job creation.
“This is a key component to a job creation plan that extends long beyond the time of us being in this body,” said Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond. “This is about investing in our future and investing in our children.”
“We find that in Maine the fastest growing companies are those that have benefited from our innovation grants,” said Sen. Chris Rector, a Thomaston Republican and sponsor of the R&D measure.
Of the five bond packages approved by the Legislature, LePage vetoed only the research and development proposal and allowed the four others to go to voters without his sig nature. While LePage is concerned about all borrowing, spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the administration would have preferred an R&D package that puts a greater emphasis on commercializing products.
“The benefit to the taxpayers of Maine occurs when commercialization happens,” she said. “That’s what creates long-term jobs, not just this constant churn of research and development.”
Bond supporters cited a number of Maine companies — including Falcon Performance Footwear in Lewiston, The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor and Biovation in Boothbay — that have benefited from research and development grants and brought their products to market.
“States that have regular, targeted research and development investments prosper more than states that don’t,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta.
But the state shouldn’t borrow in order to fund R&D grants, said Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham.
“We need to let private industry lead the way in the R&D sector and make it a priority within our resources, within our budget,” she said.
In addition to debating LePage’s bond veto on Thursday, the House and Senate overrode LePage’s veto of legislation that restructures a program that offers teachers a salary supplement if they obtain certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. LePage used the veto to again criticize the state’s teachers union, the Maine Education Association, for endorsing a referendum to allow same-sex marriage rather than focusing on students.
“It appears Governor LePage’s anger at the MEA outweighs his interest in improving our schools,” Chris Galgay, Maine Education Association president, said in a statement. “We applaud those legislators who understood the importance of recognizing best teaching practices and honoring Maine’s best teachers by voting to override this veto.”
House members on Thursday also sustained two of LePage’s vetoes on bills that would have allowed fraternal and veterans organizations to have slot machines and to allow the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority to borrow money for courts without first obtaining voter approval.