Sometimes in Augusta, “yes” means “no” means “yes”



Augusta had a moment last week when a Maine senator nearly flipped the outcome of a sports betting bill—by mistake. The bill, passed by the Legislature in 2019, would have legalized online sports betting with a hefty tax to beef up Maine coffers.

Governor Janet Mills vetoed the bill. In her veto letter she expressed her appreciation for the legislative committee (Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs) that wished to “bring out into the open a black market activity that is practiced by many now.” The governor called it a “delicate balance” between regulating the activity and driving it “back underground.”

Nevertheless, she remained “unconvinced at this time that the majority of Maine people are ready to legalize, support, endorse and promote betting on competitive athletic events.”

Part of her concern was because sports betting would “draw in people who should not be risking money impetuously because of youth or financial or family circumstances.” Further, the governor warns that in states that have legalized sports betting “revenues have fallen far short of projections for a variety of reasons…”

So the bill was to legalize sports betting and the veto was to nix it. The veto override, then, was to nix the nix. It is not hard to understand that for a legislator sitting in the chamber it can be difficult to keep a grip on “yes” means “no” means “yes.” It is a legislator’s duty to sort these things through, but it is not always easy.

Hence, we should not be too quick to judge the senator who touched her green button to override the governor’s veto rather than the red button to sustain it. The senator had opposed the legalization from the get-go, so her vote against overriding the veto stood out. Unfortunately, that single vote meant the Senate voted to override and sports betting would become legal.

With Sen. Lisa Keim’s vote, it was the first time the Maine Senate voted to override a Mills veto.  That set the House up for the decisive reckoning. It proved to be a backstop for the governor, failing to muster the votes for an override and killing the sports betting bill.

In other news, the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn by April 15 and is slogging along through its second session agenda. There are signs that this will not be an easy deadline to meet. Last year’s adjournment deadline was met by shoveling large numbers of bills forward to the current session. Now that legislative chicken is coming home to roost.

There are beaucoup bills still in committee. One seeks to form a “leadership council” to develop and implement a “spaceport complex” in Maine. The ultimate goal is a strategic plan that would involve Maine in the “global market for emerging nanotechnologies and aerospace technology.”

The proposal includes a “review of the state’s current aerospace industry.” One is tempted to say that shouldn’t take long, but that might be selling the industry short. Aerospace exports in 2017 were reported at $312 million, a 30 percent increase over the previous year. That made it the second most valuable export industry in Maine, behind only seafood. Who knew?

Those exports include aviation engines and parts, thermal insulation and hydraulic sensors. Brunswick Landing, the business and economic development center created following the closing of Brunswick Naval Air Station, is the home of an aviation complex that boasts “hangar space, maintenance facilities, … administrative offices, … a highly skilled and dedicated workforce … and affordable housing.”

The Maine International Trade Center released an “overview and directory” of the aerospace industry in Maine which includes location, transportation and education advantages in our state. It also includes an inventory of existing Maine businesses that can support the aerospace industry. So a Maine spaceport complex is no joke.

Neither are the 140 bills sitting on the Special Appropriations Table. These are bills that have gone all the way up to their final enactment vote but do not have funding. The Appropriations Committee must find money or strip off the fiscal note by amending the bill.

If money cannot be found, appropriators can reference non-governmental sources of funds as available or direct a department to take on new responsibilities “within existing resources.” The committee may also decide that some bills cannot or will not be funded and let them die on the table. Still, dealing with such a lengthy list of bills takes time.

By the time April rolls around legislators will be beyond anxious to get out of dodge and start campaigning, for themselves or other candidates in their parties, so don’t look for this legislative session to spill over into late spring. We’re betting on a timely adjournment, even if it takes the wholesale slaughter of unfinished bills to make it happen.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.

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