Monday, April 21, 2014
Maine's allegedly pro-business governor has vetoed an investment in Maine's economic future. Now it's up to Maine's pro-business Legislature to stand up to him and bring this question to the voters.
At issue is a $20 million bond issue that would provide matching funds for private investment in research and development.
The money would be awarded in a competitive grant process in which applicants would offer a one-to-one match or better, using taxpayer money to leverage private investment that will create the kinds of jobs Maine needs.
Past grants have funded projects in partnership with universities and businesses, stimulating innovation that boosts traditional industries, such as blueberry harvesting and forestry, as well as composite manufacturing and biotechnology.
The bond issue received unanimous support from the Legislature's Appropriations Committee and overwhelming support in the House and Senate. It is an issue that usually cuts through partisanship and ideological boundaries.
But Gov. LePage is being typically stubborn about clinging to any leverage he can have to force the Legislature to cut spending in other areas.
The governor is taking this stand at a time when Maine lags behind its competitors for new investment in its commitment to funding research. Maine spends about 1 percent of its gross domestic product on such investments. The national average is 2.6 percent. The New England average is 4.7 percent.
The governor's ideological stand is not good for Maine, and it's not good business. He says he cannot support this bond because it would use borrowed money to pay for operating expenses.
But someone with his background in business should know that this is how new endeavors get started. In the private sector, startups use equity investments and loans to keep the lights on and pay salaries until they can stand on their own. It's not as if investments in building and equipment are the only use for borrowed money.
Lawmakers should look beyond the debt when considering this veto and focus on what the state can expect to see as a return for its investment. Investments in innovation increase the state's capacity for high-paying jobs.
They also increase the skill level of Maine's work force, opening the door to future investment.
This veto is poorly supported by the facts and short-sighted.
Lawmakers from both parties should stand up for the future of the Maine economy, and let Maine voters decide whether to make this investment in their future.