June 1, 2012

Lawmakers sustain 3 of 4 LePage vetoes

By Susan McMillan
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Capping this year's session, legislators on Thursday overturned Gov. Paul LePage's veto of a teacher training bill and upheld three other vetoes issued by the governor.

click image to enlarge

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, bottom left, speaks during a debate on overriding Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a teacher training bill on Thursday in Augusta. That was the only one of four vetoes ultimately overturned by the Legislature.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

As the House moved toward adjournment on Thursday, Majority Leader Rep. Philip A. Curtis, R-Madison, center, was sent down the hall to deliver that message to the Senate. He and Senate President Kevin Raye, right, laugh just outside the Senate chamber in the final moments the 2011-12 legislative session. Secretary of the Senate Joseph Carleton, at left, watches.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The House and Senate both cleared the two-thirds majority threshold to push through scholarships for teachers seeking National Board Certification and salary stipends for those who do.

Meanwhile, the Senate also voted in favor of a $20 million bond proposal to fund research and development investments, which was promoted as a job-creating measure. The House, however, sustained a veto of the bond proposal, as well as vetoes of bills that limited the Maine Government Facilities Authority's borrowing powers and allowed fraternal and veterans' organizations to operate slot machines.

The bond proposal would have sent voters a request to borrow $20 million for the Maine Technology Asset Fund, a competitive awards program that supports capital improvements for research and development projects.

The Senate voted to override LePage's veto by 29-6, but the House vote was 88-53, falling short of the threshold of 94 votes. The House previously voted 99-41 in favor of the bond, but 13 Republicans changed positions.

Echoing the objections in LePage's veto message, Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said many Republicans had concerns about the state borrowing more money and where the awards go.

"Some of that money doesn't always find its way to private industry, and in fact it's used by start-up companies and nonprofit organizations that compete with private enterprises that are ongoing," said Nutting, who previously voted for the bond proposal and four others that LePage allowed to go to voters for approval.

Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, said policymakers need to make research and development a priority in the general fund budget rather than issuing bonds.

"I voted no on every bond not because I don't want all these wonderful things, but because we are in a dire financial situation, and borrowing -- with interest -- on taxpayer dollars is irresponsible," Prescott said.

House Democratic leader Emily Cain of Orono said on the House floor that it is not a coincidence that Maine is last in the country for research and development investment and last in personal income growth.

"This is nothing short of a vote against jobs and future economic development," Cain said in a prepared statement.

Bill sponsor Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, said he was disappointed the House sustained the veto, but a similar bond package will come back in the next Legislature.

"It's important to the long-term growth of our economy that we recognize there's a role for public policymakers to play in funding research in a way that allows for innovation and ultimately the growth of our businesses," Rector said. "It was a disappointment today, but we live to fight another day."

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor wants to improve the return on investment of the award program by focusing more on the private sector and on the commercialization phase.

'Kids before politics'

LePage's veto of the teacher training bill caused less controversy among Legislators, who voted 26-9 in the Senate and 129-12 in the House to override.

The bill, L.D. 1781, establishes a scholarship fund for public school and private town academy teachers applying to become National Board Certified, which costs $2,500 and can take up to three years. It also increases to $2,500 a state stipend for teachers are board-certified.

The bill received no opposition in the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee or on the floors of the House and Senate, and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen supported it.

But LePage vetoed the bill, calling it a Band-Aid and accusing the Maine Education Association of devoting more attention to politics than improving teacher quality, including members' vote to endorse the upcoming same-sex marriage referendum. A small smiley face appears next to the signature on his veto message.

(Continued on page 2)

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