BRUNSWICK — Gov. Paul LePage has been an outspoken proponent of business-friendly initiatives and economic development.
But when he vetoed of a popular pro-business initiative on the Friday before Memorial Day, he touched off criticism from businesses around the state.
The Legislature gave wide bipartisan support to LD 225, a bill that would have asked voters in November to back a $20 million bond for the Maine Technology Asset Fund.
MTAF, administered by the Maine Technology Institute in Brunswick, has nearly $53 million invested in 35 research and development projects across the state.
In his veto message, LePage cited an unwillingness to increase debt.
“We are using debt to pay operational costs,” the governor said. “If the Legislature truly believes we should spend $20 million on research and development, then we should reduce spending elsewhere in the budget and pay for it out of the General Fund.”
Business leaders who have benefited from the program say that the money is an investment, not an expense, and suggested that the governor’s veto was short-sighted.
“I know no one likes debt, but if you want the harvest, you have to seed,” said Martin Grimnes, owner of Harbor Technologies in Brunswick.
Chris Sauer, owner of Ocean Renewable Power Co. in Portland, has said that his company wouldn’t exist were it not for the MTAF program.
“Clearly, creating jobs in the future, and investment in research and development are linked. That’s well proven,” he said on Tuesday. “… You can’t reach out and touch it right now, so you have to have vision. You have to have vision about the future.”
Kent Peterson, president of Yarmouth’s Fluid Imaging Technologies, agreed.
“It is regrettable that investments in the technology space by the State of Maine are being blocked given that investment returns from prior outlays have demonstrable benefits in terms of new, high paying jobs and new company start-ups, both of which Maine desperately needs,” said Peterson. “Technology is the one area where Maine can ill afford not to maintain competitiveness if it wishes to remain relevant in the 21st century.”
Sauer said the bond is particularly important in the current economy.
“People like me believe that a good public investment is what’s needed, a good shot in the arm to the economy,” he said.
The Maine Center for Economic Policy is advocating an override of the veto, citing studies that have found that MTAF stimulates the economy.
According to MECEP, Maine realizes $12 in economic benefits from every $1 the state invests in R&D.
Sauer said LePage should allow the people of Maine to decide whether they favor the bond.
“I was disappointed that the governor has decided that the people of Maine shouldn’t decide, that the governor decided that it should be his sole decision,” he said. “That’s the biggest disappointment.”
“The governor has abandoned Maine’s innovation economy,” he said, and urged lawmakers to override the veto.
“Now it’s up to the Maine Legislature to act again with bipartisan wisdom and common sense to restore Maine’s economic future,” he said.
Grimnes said that he and other business leaders will be paying attention to the outcome of the Legislature’s attempt to override the veto.
“I think there is a lot of bipartisan support for those activities,” he said, “so it will be interesting to see where they end up.”
At the same time that he announced the veto, LePage said he was withholding his signature from four other bond initiatives that have been approved by the Legislature. Those bills will go before voters in November.
The Legislature is scheduled to convene on Thursday, May 31, at which time it will consider whether to override the veto of LD 225 and three others.