What should have been the least controversial item on Tuesday’s ballot could end up resulting the biggest fight. Maine voters approved three of four bond issues, agreeing to borrowing for land conservation, transportation investment and water and sewer projects. (A fourth bond that would have raised money to invest in state university and community college campuses was narrowly defeated.)
Typically, that would be the end of the conversation, and the government would abide by the people’s wishes and sell the bonds to raise money for the projects. But for the last two years, we have been living in atypical times.
Gov. LePage is philosophically opposed to borrowing, and he pressed his point of view with the Republican-controlled Legislature. In 2011, no bonds came before the voters for the first time in recent memory. In 2012, LePage informed state officials that he would not issue bonds that had been approved by voters in previous years. He was aided in this effort by state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, who shared LePage’s distaste for debt.
That was that until this week. Maine has a winner-take-all system when it comes to selecting the treasurer and the other constitutional officers. When the voters turned out the Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, they in effect turned out the treasurer, and Democratic lawmakers will now get to replace Poliquin.
Whoever they choose should consider going over the governor’s head and issuing the bonds without his approval.
Doing so would make sense. Before bonds go to the voters, bond issues have to get two-thirds support from both houses of the Legislature and then clear the governor’s desk. The governor can sign the bill or veto it, as LePage did with an R&D bond this year. After a bond issue gets the voters’ support, why should the governor be allowed a second veto? The people should have the last word. Maine’s next treasurer should challenge the governor on this point.