Here’s a tip for legislatures everywhere: words matter. And as those of us who work in the news industry know, you can save yourself some embarrassment if you stop pretty often to carefully re-read what you just wrote.
Maine lawmakers learned that rule the hard way last year, when they passed a measure to authorize funding for the state’s housing energy-efficiency program. A transcriptionist made a minor mistake in the final official wording of the legislation, leaving out just one word — “and.”
Maine Governor Paul LePage signed the bill. But when it came time to implement its provisions, administration officials zeroed in on the missing “and,” reading the bill’s language in a way that sharply curtailed the state’s spending — from the $59 million the legislature meant to approve, to just $22 million that the administration says it plans to spend.
The legislature has been trying to fix its mistake — and may succeed, reports the Portland Press-Herald (see: “Senate unanimously passes fix to Efficiency Maine bill,” by Steve Mistler). “The issue began in 2013, when the Legislature passed a massive energy bill that authorized a surcharge on electricity ratepayers,” the paper reports. “The funds were used to finance a program that subsidized energy-efficient light bulbs and helped more than 3,000 businesses convert to energy-saving equipment last year.”
Now the Maine Senate has voted to restore the missing “and,” along with the missing millions of dollars of energy-efficiency incentives. But relations between the legislature and the governor have been rocky, even hostile — as evidenced by the governor’s decision to read the legislation against the clear intent of the legislature in the first place. LePage has indicated that he will veto the fix, throwing the matter back to the legislature for a possible override.
But LePage, who opposes the surcharge on ratepayers, can’t count on much support even from his own party on this issue, reports the Bangor Daily News (see: “‘Typo’ bill to restore $38 million to Efficiency Maine passes through Legislature,” by Christopher Cousins). Reports the paper: “LD 1215, which was sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, received near-unanimous support in the Legislature, with unanimous support in the Senate and 138-1 support in the House. Rep. Ricky Long, R-Sherman, cast the lone vote against it. The bill has been working its way through the legislative process for months.”
“Efficiency Maine has been held as a model for reducing Maine’s energy costs by Democrats, Republicans, business owners and homeowners,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, who is a member of the Legislature’s energy committee. “I am pleased that we are continuing that legacy of working together to pass bipartisan energy policy.”
And on June 19, the Republican-led Maine Senate, following the example of the Democrat-led House, overturned 64 LePage line-item vetoes in a row, the Press-Herald reported (see: “Legislature completes override of LePage budget vetoes,” by Steve Mistler.) “The governor has acknowledged that the vetoes were designed to delay the Legislature’s adjournment and retribution for rejecting several of his key policy initiatives,” the paper reports. “The motivation helps explain why LePage’s vetoes included initiatives that he has strongly supported in the past, including those that would help domestic violence victims, the elderly, disabled and mentally ill.” The Senate overturned the 64 vetoes with 128 votes in 47 minutes, the Bangor Daily News reported (see: “Senate spikes LePage’s 64 line-item vetoes with lightning speed,” by Christopher Cousins).
With the line-item vetoes restored, the Governor can still veto the entire state budget as a whole, which will require a two-thirds vote of both houses to override. LePage has ten days to issue that veto, sign the bill, or let the budget pass without his signature; he is expected to veto the bill at the last minute. And the millions of home energy incentive dollars, vanished because of a carelessly deleted “and”? Time will tell.