The Maine Legislature overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would grant tax credits to primary care physicians who practice in rural areas of the state where a doctor shortage limits the care people receive or requires patients to travel long distances to appointments.
The Senate voted 30-4 Thursday morning, and the House followed in the afternoon with a 111-35 vote, surpassing the two-thirds majority needed to push the bill through.
The tax credit would reduce Maine income tax paid by doctors. Physicians would receive a $6,000 credit in the first year, which would increase every year until the credit reaches $18,000 in the fifth year. After the fifth year, the tax credit expires. Starting this year, up to five doctors per year can enroll in the tax credit program.
The tax credit would cost the state about $150,000 per year once it’s fully implemented, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
Vanessa Santarelli, chief executive of the Maine Primary Care Association, did some last-minute lobbying of legislators Thursday to ensure passage. The original House vote in April was 98-45 in favor, which passed comfortably but did not leave a vote to spare for an override. Meanwhile, the Senate had passed the bill in April without a roll call vote, so there was no way to know if the enough senators supported the bill to override the veto.
Santarelli said the tax credit is needed to help address a critical shortage of physicians in rural areas.
“This tax credit is vitally important and modest,” Santarelli said. “Maine needs this right now to remain competitive with other states.”
She said other New England states offer more lucrative tax incentives to encourage young doctors to locate in rural areas, as a way to offset medical school debt.
LePage did not issue a veto message explaining his decision. His office did not respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, chair of the health and human services committee, said the need for rural physicians is only going to increase in the years ahead.
“We have a substantial number of primary care physicians who will be retiring,” Farnsworth said. “We need to beef up the workforce.”
Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash and a co-sponsor of the bill, said many people in his district feel the effects of the shortage. He hopes the tax credits will help.
“There’s just not that many doctors,” he said. “People are going without seeing their doctor or traveling long distances to see a doctor.”
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @joelawlorph