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Maine Governor Adds Teacher Certification Bill to List of Vetoes
05/29/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Gov. Paul LePage has added another bill to the list of those he has now vetoed. The latest deals with funding of the National Teacher Certification Board and would have increased salary supplements for certified teachers. LePage's bill rejection follows last week's veto of a $20 million research and development bond proposal, along with several other bills. As A.J. Higgins reports, some caucus leaders think some, but not all, of the governor's vetoes might be sustained.

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Gov. Paul LePage says he supports the National Board Certification Program for teachers and would agrees to eliminate teacher certification fees and even increase salaries of those teachers who become certified. But in vetoing LD 1781, LePage says that the refusal of the state teachers union to pay its fair share for professional development while continuing to collect dues for the Maine Education Association is unacceptable.

In his veto message, the governor said the union continues to collect dues that are "squandered on a host of activities not even remotely related to professional development." LePage declined an interview request by MPBN, but Democratic state Senate Assistant Minority Leader Justin Alfond, of Portland, says he and others will push for an override of the veto Thursday.

This bill has not received one vote against it in the state Senate, I don't believe it received a vote against it in the House and I hope that my collegaues will support a great professional development program for teachers so that we can ensure that every Maine family has the best teachers in the classroom," Alfond says.

And that's not the only override effort underway. Last week, Republican leaders thought LePage would likely veto all five bond proposals approved by the Legislature on the basis that Maine is not positioned to undertake the nearly $96 million in new debt.

But instead, without signing the bills, the governor agreed to allow a total of $76 million dollars in borrowing to go to the voters in November. He rejected just one bond: A $20 million proposal to fund research and development.

Now Assistant Senate Majority Leader Debra Plowman, a Hampden Republican, says her caucus will likely have trouble supporting the governor's position. "I think that you're going to see that it gets what it needs to overturn the veto," Plowman says.

That's because there are aspects of the governor's veto message that don't add up when considering LD 225, the R&D bond that was passionately defended by its sponsor, Republican state Sen. Chris Rector, of Thomaston. In vetoing the bond, LePage said its $20 million cost should have been built into the state budget -- an argument he could have also made for any of the four bond proposals that he allowed to go to the voters.

LePage also told lawmakers that in the past, RandD bonds have only benefitted government programs and non-profits -- a point that is disputed by the bond's supporters. Rector told members of the Senate that rather than holding its own in providing R&D investment to create jobs at home, Maine is bumping along the bottom.

"As it is now, we are investing overall--state of Maine--less than 1 percent of our gross domestic product in research and development," Rector told his colleagues. "And the benchmark is for a 3 percent investment to see a growing economy. We not only don't stack up well in the United States, we don't stack up well in New England. We don't even stack up well with our competitive, small, rural, poor states around the country."

Plowman says she is inclined to side with LePage, who believes bonding should deliver tangible results such as infrastructure improvements or actual job creation. But she admits that her position is a minority in the Maine Senate, where the veto override effort will begin on Thursday.

Earlier, the bill received the support of 30 of the 35 members of the Senate, and 99 of the 151 members of the House. That strong vote of support was partially prompted by what House Democratic Leader Emily Cain, of Orono, says is the belief among lawmakers that R&D leads to job creation in Maine.

"There's no reason I can think of that it was a good idea to veto that bond, particularly when Maine people have consistently shown support for this type of investment in our economy and job creation," Cain says.

Another bill vetoed by LePage removes the ability of veterans groups and fraternal organizations to install up to five slot machines per club for the purposes of generating operational revenue. In his veto message, the governor said Mainers have historically voted on gambling questions, and that slots for vets is an expansion of gambling.

State Rep. Stacey Fitts, a Pittsfield Republican and the sponsor of the slots bill, disagrees. "I think we're looking at apples and oranges," Fitts says. "And the thing that I think people have to remember is that the non-profits that are part of this bill, they already have games of chance licenses, so this is just another tool for them within the whole inventory that they might be able to offer to members."

Another bill vetoed by LePage, that would have made changes to the scope of proposals that could go out for bonding under the state Governmental Facilities Authority, is likely to be sustained by the Legislature, leaders said.


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