AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a $20 million bond for research and development Friday and let four other bonds go to voters without his signature.
LePage said he personally opposes the four borrowing measures, which would total more than $75 million and provide funding for sewer and clean-water projects, economic development, higher education, and roads and bridges.
Even if those bonds are approved by voters in November, LePage said, he will delay spending the money until the state lowers its debt load.
“While these bond proposals were authorized by legislators, it does not mean that we need to spend the money. I cannot personally support any of these bonds and will not vote for them at the polls in November,” LePage said in a written statement. “Even with the voters’ authorization to borrow this money, my administration will not spend it until we’ve lowered our debt significantly. That could be several years.”
In vetoing the $20 million research-and-development bond, LePage said the expense is better suited for the operating budget.
“If the Legislature truly believes we should spend $20 million on research and development, then we should reduce spending elsewhere in the budget and pay for it out of the General Fund,” LePage wrote.
“Second, the majority of the funds from these bonds in the past have gone to government programs and not-for-profits. Taxpayer dollars should go towards R&D only when we can demonstrate a specific return on that investment. That return must be measured in taxes and jobs. Both of those rightly come in the private sector,” LePage said.
A recent report prepared by the Maine Development Foundation for the Maine Economic Growth Council, however, said that the majority of research-and-development expenditures went to industry and higher education. Industry got 55.5 percent of Maine’s research-and-development expenditures, followed by 28.8 percent for universities and colleges, and 15.7 percent to not-for-profits.
Lawmakers are expected to meet next week to consider the research-and-development bond veto and other vetoes.
Democratic leaders criticized the governor for blocking the research bond.
“This veto is shortsighted and bad for business,” said Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the House Democratic leader, in a written statement. “Investments in R&D have paid off. They boost business, create jobs, and help our fishermen, farmers and boatbuilders.”
Democrats, citing the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, said Maine has lost more than 1,000 jobs since 2011 and ranks 50th in the nation for personal income growth.
“Why is the governor turning away opportunity? Blocking targeted investments in R&D will keep Maine at the bottom,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond.
John O’Dea, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, said the state’s businesses are not well capitalized compared with businesses in other states.
“A lack of investment in Maine businesses is one reason why Maine’s rate of growth is expected to be about a third lower than the rest of the nation as a whole over the next few years,” he said.
The Maine Center for Economic Policy said it has been an advocate for a “robust” bond package and called the veto unfortunate.
“R&D was a big part of that effort — to get the economy going and create jobs,” said Mark Sullivan, communications director for the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
LePage also vetoed two other bills: An Act To Increase Gaming Opportunities for Charitable Fraternal and Veterans’ Organizations and An Act To Limit the Bonding Authority of the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority to Court Facility Projects.
Staff Writer Jessica Hall contributed to this story.
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: