AUGUSTA — As part of his effort to undermine a minimum wage hike approved by Maine voters in 2016, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a spending bill Monday that includes $4 million for a lead abatement program aimed at alleviating a serious public health issue in Lewiston and Auburn.
Lewiston and Auburn are considered among the places in Maine with the biggest lead problems.
In his veto message, LePage did not mention the program specifically, insisting he did not want to get into “a debate about the details” of the bill.
His focus was on trying to get lawmakers to slow the scheduled increase in the minimum wage with a veto of a $41.6 million spending plan that includes a number of items LePage endorsed.
The veto drew a strong rebuke from Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, the assistant majority leader in the House and his party’s candidate for the 2nd District U.S. House seat this year.
“Lawmakers took an overwhelming bipartisan vote to protect Maine kids, but the governor’s veto threatens to put more young people in harm’s way,” Golden said in a prepared statement.
Golden said lead poisoning “costs Maine communities millions of dollars each year.”
“And that doesn’t even begin to account for the human toll, costs that cannot truly be measured,” Golden said. “Its effects are long-term and often irreversible. The best and most cost-effective way to address the problem is to prevent it in the first place.”
The new lead program approved by the Legislature aims to provide assistance to landlords who deal with peeling, chipping paint in older buildings before any children are harmed by it.
The measure vetoed by LePage also includes funding to combat the opioid epidemic, protect school-based health clinics and expand access to mental and behavioral health care.
LePage said he agrees that “something needs to be done” on many of the subjects covered by the bill that address problems facing Maine’s most vulnerable residents.
But his veto message focuses on the minimum wage issue, complaining that lawmakers have made the state “a more difficult place to do business,” and decreased Maine’s competitiveness by neglecting his call to slow the rate of increase for workers at the lowest end of the pay scale.
LePage said House Speaker Sara Gideon “is insistent on sending our economy into a recession from the compounding headaches caused by the minimum wage.”
“Maine’s labor markets should be able to set wages according to local demand for the skills each worker brings to the table, not the government,” LePage said.
“The inflexible, statewide, one-size-fits-fall minimum wage law has taken the flexibility out of the market.”
The Legislature will consider a veto override when it meets July 9. It takes a two-thirds vote in both the Maine House of Representatives and Senate to override the governor’s veto.
Robert Martel of Community Concepts Housing and Energy Services conducts a lead inspection in 2017 at an apartment on Howe Street in Lewiston. (Photo by Katya Danilova/Doroga Media)