By Senator Roger Katz (R-Augusta), special to the Bangor Daily News
Legislators return to Augusta on Thursday for the last day of this legislative session. One of the items on our schedule will be consideration of the governor’s veto of LD 1378, the so-called “LMF Bond Bill.” I was a sponsor of this bipartisan bill, and I write to respectfully urge my colleagues in the Legislature to vote to override the veto.
I think the principle here is pretty simple: When Maine voters have spoken at the ballot box, no one, including a governor, should have a right to veto their decision. That’s it. If you agree with this principle, that should be the end of this.
Although the governor’s veto message suggests this bill somehow violates our Constitution, that is just not so. In fact, the Maine Constitution gives the governor no role whatsoever in the bond approval process — the ultimate authority is vested solely in the people. Article IV, Section 19 makes it clear that the “veto power of the Governor shall not extend to any measure approved by vote of the people …” Also, “the Legislature may enact measures expressly conditioned upon the people’s ratification by a referendum vote.”
So why is there a problem? The law ( 5 M.R.S.A. §145) mandates that bonds “must bear the facsimile of the signature of the Governor and must be signed by the Treasurer of State, or the Treasurer of State’s deputy and attested by the Commissioner of Administrative and Financial Services, or such agent as the commissioner may designate.” In other words, the governor must sign the bonds or at least they must bear his facsimile signature. This is simply a “ministerial” function and not a “discretionary” one. Let me suggest an analogy: When a bill is passed for enactment in the Senate, the Senate president must sign a document confirming its enactment. He really doesn’t have any choice, even if he did not vote for the bill and might think it is the worst legislation of this session. He has no discretion — his signature is simply what we call “ministerial.” The requirement that bonds bear the signature of the governor fits into the same category. As far as our own research can determine, no previous chief executive has ever attempted to hold up the issuance of bonds approved by the voters by refusing to sign them.
So, what does LD 1378 do? It makes clear that, once the people have spoken at the ballot box and approved borrowing, the governor must authorize issuance of bonds and his signature is not required on the bonds themselves. The bill sets out appropriate exceptions to this general rule, all set out in Section 1 of the bill.
You will see that LD 1378 specifically mentions already approved bonds such as Land for Maine’s Future proposals ratified by Maine people in 2010 and 2012. This is because we need to make clear that the bill will apply to already approved projects, not just ones ratified by voters in the future. The five-year window for $6.7 million of these LMF bonds to be issued is closing. The clock is ticking and will expire this November. Many worthwhile projects are being held up, projects that have been overwhelmingly approved by Maine voters.
But as worthy as I believe these particular bonds are, the principle is a much larger one. It is fine to horse-trade with issues, but it should be off-limits to do so with an issue that has already been decided in no uncertain terms by the people.
I worry that if we allow the chief executive to seize this power, then we set a terrible precedent going forward for every Democrat or Republican who may follow him. Today, the idea is that voter-approved land conservation projects in Cumberland and Augusta should not be collateral damage to a disagreement about cutting trees in Aroostook. But what if the next chief executive is a Democrat and says he or she won’t spend voter-approved bond money to pave roads and repair bridges until the Legislature raises the minimum wage by 25 percent? Do any of us want to set that kind of precedent?
Lawyers sometimes joke that “if the law is on your side, argue the law. If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If neither the law nor the facts are on your side, then make things up.” I respectfully suggest that this is sadly what the governor’s veto message has done.
LD 1378 is a bipartisan, good government bill. When the people have spoken, we all need to respect their will. I hope we will all stand with the people — our constituents — and override this veto.
Sen. Roger J. Katz, R-Augusta, represents District 15 in the Maine Senate.