AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature upheld Gov. Janet Mills’ veto of a high-profile bill to create a consumer-owned electric utility and four other bills Monday, quashing the endeavor for now but setting in motion another effort to bring the initiative directly to voters.
The consumer-owned utility bill was one of a number of progressive legislative efforts that have failed this session. It was among the most high-profile to fail Monday, as lawmakers also sustained Mills’ vetoes on bills that would have changed the state’s food sovereignty laws, changed the arbitration of public employee labor disputes, how employment laws are enforced and requiring state building projects to be made with products manufactured in the United States. They still needed to address two bills related to prescription drug price gouging Monday evening.
Lawmakers this session have sustained all of Mills’ vetoes, which have spurred the ire of progressive supporters of the measures she has nixed. Mills successfully defeated efforts to close the state’s last youth detention center, limit government-owned companies’ referendum spending, rework the criminal code, and allow the tribes in Maine to conduct gaming this session.
The consumer-owned utility bill from Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, would have asked voters if they would endorse the creation of the Pine Tree Power Co., which supporters have characterized as a quasi-municipal entity that would be governed by an elected board. The entity would float a bond to buy out Central Maine Power and Versant Power and take control of their infrastructure.
It went down in a 68-65 vote Monday, garnering far short of the two-thirds needed to override the veto.
Mills argued the bill was not thoroughly vetted in her veto message last week and not the way to fix problems with the state’s utilities. Those points were reiterated by Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, who characterized the bill as a “government takeover” that could set a dangerous precedent in the state.
“If we don’t like the way our cable companies are run, are we going to have state-owned cable? Are we going to have state-owned newspapers if we don’t like what they write?” he said. “…This is something that Russia does, that China does, that Venezuela does. Is that the direction we want to head?”
The vote to sustain Mills’ veto means the question will not appear before voters this November. But proponents of a consumer-owned utility have vowed to collect signatures to bring a citizens’ petition, likely by next fall.
That referendum would give voters another chance to weigh in, Berry said.
“We can let Maine people be our own masters, free our people from energy captivity, pay for performance rather than guaranteed profits and provide the choice and control that comes with representative and democratic, transparent governance,” he said.