AUGUSTA — From Maine's $6.3 billion state budget to a bill to directing the state to study the effects of climate change, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed more bills this year than any other Maine governor in a single session in almost 40 years.
As of Tuesday, the governor had vetoed 48 bills lawmakers sent to his desk this year. The Democratic-controlled Legislature will return to the Capitol on Wednesday, a week after the session was supposed to end, for a day dedicated to attempting to override the governor's remaining vetoes.
LePage's administration says many of the vetoed bills would have placed burdens on Maine's already time- and cash-strapped agencies. But Democrats say that the governor's "veto spree" is standing in the way of bipartisan progress.
"This just continues the pattern that the governor has demonstrated at being obstructionist," said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. He pointed to a bill that would have made it unlawful for an employer to fail to provide accommodations for nursing employees.
"It's unfortunate that the governor was the one person that stood in the way of us making sure that we could strengthen our laws as it relates to nursing mothers and moms getting back to work," he said.
The governor vetoed many of the bills because the state doesn't have money for them right now, said Peter Steele, LePage's communications director. One bill recently vetoed by the governor would have directed the state to study issues related to the cost of long-term care. In his veto message, the governor said while each of these studies may not cost the state much, "together they create a significant drain on valuable state resources."
"Part of good governing is not just passing good legislation, it's sometimes stopping bad legislation," Steele said. "While there may have been worthy efforts in there, we just can't afford to use more resources than we have to implement these things."
LePage has vetoed more bills this session than the entire eight years that his predecessor, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, was in office, according to data collected from Maine's Law and Legislative Reference Library.
"It's an instrument of communication and persuasion," said Paul Mills, a lawyer, political analyst, newspaper columnist and historian from Farmington. "It's obvious that it has had an impact. It has moved public policy and changed the way the Legislature evaluates the process," he said.
The last governor to veto as many bills in one session was Gov. James Longley, an independent who served from 1975 to 1979. Longley vetoed 49 bills in 1977 and rejected more than 100 bills throughout his four years in office. But he didn't have the party support behind him to sustain the vetoes like LePage does, Mills said.
"Longley had a combative personality and an aggressive approach to friend and foe alike," said Herb Adams, an adjunct professor of history and political science at Southern Maine Community College and a former Democratic state representative from Portland.
Other Maine governors who frequently used their veto power include former Independent Gov. Angus King, who vetoed 25 bills in 1999. Former Republican Gov. John McKernan, like LePage, had an antagonistic relationship with the Democratic leadership, vetoing about 80 bills during two terms in office.
In 1977, lawmakers successfully voted to override 22 of Longley's 49 vetoes. With Republican support, lawmakers sustained all but two of the 24 bills LePage vetoed in 2011 and 2012. This session, the House and Senate have yet to completely override a single one of LePage's vetoes.
That could change Wednesday.
Maine lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol to take up LePage's veto of the $6.3 billion, two-year budget, in addition to other bills recently vetoed. Democrats say they are confident they have enough votes to override the veto on the budget if Republicans stick to their original votes. If the legislature fails to override the governor's veto Wednesday, the state could face the first government shutdown since 1991.