AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills signaled to lawmakers in a memo this week that she is likely to veto a bill that would create a consumer-owned power utility to purchase the assets of Central Maine Power and Versant Power.

The bill, which has both bipartisan support and opposition in the Legislature, cleared the House of Representatives late Tuesday, June 15, but faces additional votes in the Senate.

The bill would also require ratification by voters, but its support in the Legislature has so far fallen short of the two-thirds margin it would need to overcome a veto by Mills.

Prior to the House vote on the bill, Mills’ chief of staff, Jeremy Kennedy, issued a memo to lawmakers that details the governor’s concerns about the legislation. These include, among other things, the loss of an estimated $90 million in property tax revenue now paid to municipalities by CMP and Versant Power.

That $90 million dollars represents 3% of all the property taxes paid in Maine, and while the bill calls for Pine Tree Power to make payments in lieu of taxes, it doesn’t require it.

“Lewiston alone would lose 10% of its revenue,” the memo from Kennedy stated.

Among the other “serious concerns” noted is the ripple effect the revenue loss would have on the state’s public school funding formula, which calculates the amount of state revenue local school districts receive based on the total property value of the cities and towns in the district.

“Those towns conceivably would be collecting the same revenue but would appear to be “poorer” in relation to surrounding towns for purposes of revenue sharing and education funding, creating serious new inequities across the state,” Kennedy wrote in the memo.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, has been a steady critic of CMP and an opponent to an ongoing $1 billion powerline expansion through western Maine by the company and its partners, including the Canadian owned power giant Hydro-Quebec.

Berry hailed the bill in a floor speech in the House chamber ahead of its passage, saying the creation of Pine Tree Power would lower energy costs for Maine consumers and establish a more reliable system set up to server customers and not a corporate board of directors and stockholders.

“Every month, the 800,000 captive combined customers of CMP and Versant pay monopoly rent for the use of a monopoly grid,” Berry said. “With Pine Tree Power, we will pay a lower monthly bill. Equally important, it will no longer be a rental payment, but a mortgage payment. We will save money, invest in and improve the grid, and build our own equity.”

But opponents to the bill, which cleared the House on a 74-62 vote, said the system Berry wants is nothing short of a government takeover of two private businesses and nothing less than socialism.

“We are not a communist state. We do not take business over, against their will, and drive them out,” said Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn. “Why don’t we take over supermarkets. We don’t like the price of meat right now. Let’s take over the supermarkets, withdraw their licenses, not let them renew any more licenses.”

But supporters of the measure say reliability issues with CMP and Versant, coupled with high electricity rates, have left Maine hostage to companies largely owned by foreign interests, including the governments that own controlling shares of the global power giants.

“Most of us don’t think much about how we get our electricity until something goes wrong,” said Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth. “Unfortunately here in Maine that happens all too often.”

Grohoski said CMP and Versant were both monopolies that had no competition and provided a service that is ranked among the worst in the U.S. “Maine also has the 10th highest electricity rates nationwide,” she said. “Maine’s for-profit utilities deliver electricity for 58% more money on average than our consumer-owned utilities and rates are only going up”

To highlight her argument, Grohoski pointed to a new 25% rate increase being proposed by Versant for its service area, which includes Bangor and large parts of eastern Maine.

The bill, L.D. 1708, would need at least 101 of the 151 lawmakers in the House and 24 of the 35 state Senators to back it to overcome a veto by Mills.

In his memo, Mills’ chief of staff, Kennedy, dismantles the bill point by point, questioning its legality, costs  and structure. Kennedy writes that the notion the issue would ultimately be settled by voters because they will have the final say on the issue if the bill passes is ill conceived.

“The suggestion that the Legislature should “just let the people decide,” does not absolve the Legislature of its duty to evaluate the pros and cons of such a consequential bill,” Kennedy writes. “The Legislature needs to perform due diligence and understand the variety of impacts, before asking the voters to weigh in on such a complex and significant measure.”