AUGUSTA — Two days after issuing a statement detailing his concerns about a proposal to require a deposit on tiny liquor bottles, Gov. Paul LePage raised an entirely new rationale for his position Thursday.

LePage said the problem with the measure is that it doesn’t address the key problem involved with the fast-growing market for the 50-milliliter bottles that litter many roadways.

“The issue is drinking and driving,” the governor told a Portland radio station during his regular weekly appearance on WGAN.

He said people buy the little bottles, gulp down the alcohol and then wing the empties out the window to get rid of the evidence they’d been drinking and driving.

Adding a nickel deposit to the bottles won’t cause anyone to keep the empties in their vehicles, LePage said, because they could be used by police to make a case.

The governor said in a statement released Tuesday that he opposed the recycling-friendly measure already approved by a wide margin in both the House and Senate because its financing relies on a “kind of secretive backroom deal that burdens the taxpayer” with additional cost of $1 million annually.

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His 346-word statement said nothing about his concern about drinking and driving.

But the governor made clear that if the Legislature approves the bill, which might have a big impact on a 130-employee bottler in Lewiston, he will seek to ban the sale of the so-called nips in Maine.

Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, said there are a number of lawmakers who would like to see the bottles banned since that would take care of the littering problem and the related impaired driving issue.

In a letter to the president of the Senate this week, Mark Brown, the chief executive officer of Sazerac Co., which operates the Lewiston bottler, said the market for nips is growing quickly and will soon make up 15 percent of the overall market for liquor sales in Maine.

Brown warned that if the nips are banned, it would likely shift many of the sales to neighboring states and cause Maine to lose millions in tax revenue.

L.D. 56, a bill pending in the Legislature, would require retailers to collect a 15-cent bottle deposit on the small, 50-milliliter liquor bottles — just as they do for larger wine or liquor bottles.


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