Gov. Paul LePage says he would like to ask voters to approve a bond measure designed to attract new industries to Maine.
The governor appeared at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. He spoke against two bond proposals to subsidize the biomass industry, which he calls a losing proposition. And though two years ago he signed a bill creating a one-time program to provide over $13 million in state funds to subsidize biomass plants, LePage says they are simply not economically feasible.
“They cannot make money with the technology that they have, and even the latest technology in biomass cannot make it profitable. You need to go co-generation,” he says.
LePage cites the example of a plant that uses the steam generated in its manufacturing process to heat a building as well as generate electricity as the only feasible model. He blasted straight subsidies for biomass as corporate welfare at its worst.
“If you are going to invest into energy, which I believe we should, it needs to be at market or below and not above markets,” he says.
And the governor urged the committee not to pass a bond that promotes just one sector of the economy. He says he will propose a commercialization bond that would provide a subsidy to help businesses bring a product to market.
“A commercialization bond will invite all kinds of industries that we can look at to bring to Maine and not be very specific,” he says.
Last year LePage proposed a similar bond of $55 million, but it never made it to the floor of the Legislature. His office confirms that he plans to introduce another commercialization bond, but says the amount of the bond has not been finalized.
Rep. Drew Gattine, a Democrat from Westbrook who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, says he found the governor’s testimony helpful as the panel considers nearly half a billion dollars in borrowing requests.
“He laid out a point of view which I appreciated hearing, which was that he would rather see us making investments in things that are going to have long-term payoffs,” he says.
But co-chair Jim Hamper, a Republican senator from Oxford, says while the committee will make recommendations on bonds, what goes to the voters for their approval will be negotiated by legislative leaders and the governor — and he says most of the proposals won’t survive.
“I look at a lot of these bonds and say they’re just going by the wayside. In all honesty,” he says.
There is currently less than $150 million left in the current state budget for paying the debt service on borrowing, so many bonds will be rejected outright or trimmed significantly. It takes two-thirds vote of the Legislature to send a bond to the voters.