AUGUSTA — To nobody’s surprise, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a measure to require a deposit for the tiny liquor bottles known as nips.
In his veto message, the governor complained about the cost of the proposal but also offered an alternative way to address the littering problem created by the increasingly popular 50-milliliter bottles.
LePage said the other options are to ban the bottles in Maine — a move that would hurt a major bottler in Lewiston — or to “increase the penalty for discarding” nip bottles illegally.
“The case to increase the penalty for discarding 50ml alcohol bottles on the side of the road is clear,” he said, because many of them are thrown from vehicles after a driver gulps down the alcohol. Throwing out the bottle eliminates proof of drinking while driving.
“Whether consumed by the driver or a passenger in a vehicle, in violation of Maine law, this is dangerous, illegal and unacceptable,” LePage said.
“The behavior is more egregious because the act of discarding the bottle out the window is merely an attempt to eliminate the evidence of the crime. I cannot condone this unlawful behavior, and I believe increased penalties are warranted,” the governor said.
“Rather than support this costly bill, which will not reduce drunk driving and does nothing to curb the destruction of evidence through littering, I return LD 56 to you unsigned and vetoed. I strongly urge the Legislature to sustain it,” he said.
“Absent increased penalties, which this bill failed to impose, an alternative approach is to discontinue” the sale of nips, LePage said
He said that if the bill passes into law as it is, “I have directed the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to work with the Liquor and Lottery Commission to delist these products for sale in Maine.”
LePage said the cost of implementing the proposal is more than $1 million, with the money coming from a fund flush with liquor sales revenue.
“I am troubled by the precedent this bill sets,” the governor said. “It suggests that any time a legislator identifies a pet cause that needs funding, they should raid the state’s liquor business.”
“That type of thinking has gotten the state into financial trouble in the past, and it runs counter to the steps this administration has taken to strengthen the liquor contract, which is now producing tens of millions of dollars more a year to fund state government and enable us to pay back the hospital debt,” he said.
Sazerac Co.’s Fireball brand, bottled at a Lewiston plant that employs 130, makes up half the sales of the small bottles in the state.
The company’s president asked the Legislature to kill the bill he had previously supported rather than risk having LePage press for a ban on nip sales in Maine.
More coverage: Why so many Fireball nips are littering Maine