By Christopher Cousins
Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoed three more bills Friday evening, including a solar energy concept he has been railing against for weeks.
LePage said he vetoed LD 1252, An Act to Improve Maine's Economy and Energy Security with Solar and Wind Energy, because it establishes a new tax -- 0.011 cents per kilowatt-hour -- on residential and commercial electric bills to fund a solar energy program. He said he won't support a rate increase in a year when electricity rates in Maine already have gone up.
"This is a particularly painful time to impose an additional tax on electricity," LePage wrote in his veto message. "Energy taxes are regressive and disproportionately hurt our low-income households.
This bill would impose the tax on thousands of hardworking families just to provide the few who have the means to purchase a $20,000 solar system with a rebate of an estimated $2,000."
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Terry Morrison, D-South Portland, passed through the Senate 21-12 and through the House 109-30. It would revive a solar rebate program under Efficiency Maine and aimed to help create more than 1,250 new solar panel and hot water projects at Maine homes and businesses. It was amended by Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, so that low-income Mainers who qualify for federal heating assistance would qualify for rebates for heat pumps.
Morrison said the bill was part of a larger goal when it comes to energy policy in Maine.
"We simply can't afford to ignore solar energy, which is renewable, clean and helps keep down electricity bills that are rising because of the expansion of transmission and distribution lines," Morrison said in a written statement. "This veto is even more baffling because a Republican amendment improved the bill by adding heat pump rebates for low-income Mainers."
LePage also vetoed LD 1631, An Act to Clarify What Constitutes a Contribution to a Candidate. It would establish that any campaign expenditures made by a person who has been affiliated with that campaign in the prior 120 days, regardless of whether they were paid or volunteered, counts as a campaign contribution under Maine election finance laws. The issue is significant because of cases that have appeared before the Maine Ethics Commission in recent years that involved illegal campaign contributions.
LePage argued in his veto letter that the definition of a campaign agent as defined in the bill is too broad.
Andrew Bossie, executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, called for lawmakers to override the veto.
"This simple bill closes a problematic loophole in our campaign finance system," said Bossie in a written statement. "Maine voters want compliance and accountability when it comes to campaign finance laws and this bill provides that."
House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, reacted to the veto with dismay.
"This bill is about keeping Maine's Clean Elections clean," Berry said in a written statement. "It is too bad the governor does not share this priority."
The third bill LePage vetoed Friday was LD 1594. The bill calls for a review of the Department of Health and Human Services' emergency crisis hotline and so-called warm line services and for the department to incorporate suggestions in another report prepared by the Consumer Council System of Maine. The goal of the bill is to determine the feasibility of creating a single easily identifiable phone number and triage and dispatch system.
LePage wrote in his veto letter that DHHS already has done the analysis.
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