AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage issued his first veto of a bill this legislative session Tuesday. The governor, who previously vowed to veto every bill sent to him until Democrats who control the Legislature take action on his plan to repay Maine’s Medicaid debt to hospitals, vetoed a bill Tuesday that was designed to make payments by government agencies more efficient.
LePage vetoed LD 49, An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Payment of Fees to Registers of Deeds, which had unanimous support in both the State and Local Government Committee and the Legislature. Rep. Stephen Stanley, a Democrat from Medway, sponsored the bill, which had two Republicans and a trio of Democrats from Bangor as co-sponsors.
According to a letter from LePage to lawmakers which was dated Tuesday, the governor’s opposition to the bill derives from the fact that it involves government agencies taking money from citizens.
“I am concerned when the Legislature decides bills that clarify how government takes money from its citizens make it to my desk early in the session, while those that deal with major issues facing our state await action,” wrote LePage. “Those elected to office need to step back and address the real problems facing Maine. This is why the Maine people elected us and why I have vetoed this bill today.”
Democrats questioned why LePage would veto what they called a “common sense housekeeping measure.” Stanley said the Register of Deeds Association provided suggestions that formed the basis of his legislation.
“This is a simple measure to clarify how the state and federal government pay document fees to county registers of deeds,” said Stanley in a press release. “It makes sure that the state of Maine pays its bills to our local government in a timely manner.”
According to the text of the bill, it would have required that fees for recording a document with a register of deeds by a company, state or federal agency or department that has an automatic deposit agreement must be paid within 10 days in accordance with that agreement.
Susan Bulay, register of deeds in Penobscot County, was one of the only people who testified when the bill was in the Legislature’s committee process.
“This is the same as paying to register your car or to get a copy of your birth certificate,” said Bulay, according to her written testimony. “You pay for the service when the service is rendered. This has always worked very well.”
She said the system has been complicated with the advent of electronic deed transfers but that agreements between registers of deeds and their clients usually result in payment being made within two days of the filing. Only Maine state government is allowed to file deeds on credit, though this bill would require payment within 10 days.
“The legislation before you today would make the law follow what we are doing already,” said Bulay.
“This veto is senseless,” said House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “Why would the governor object to ensuring the state pays the counties in a timely manner? We hope Republicans will join us in rejecting this veto of a commonsense housekeeping measure.”
LePage, in his letter, said the bill may have merit but represents “what is wrong with our system.”
“The solution always seems to be to ask hard-working families to give more,” wrote LePage. “That is true at all levels of government: federal, state, county and local. We do not need laws explaining how government is supposed to take money; we need action to restore our economy and put Mainers back to work.”
Stanley’s bill encountered minimal opposition in committee and passed both chambers of the Legislature without a roll-call vote, signalling broad support. The bill will return to the Legislature, where two-thirds of legislators in both the House and Senate must vote to override LePage’s veto to enact the law.