The Legislature overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill to grant tax credits to primary care physicians who practice in rural areas where a shortage of doctors limits care or requires patients to travel long distances to appointments.
The Senate voted 30-4 Thursday morning and the House followed in the afternoon with a 111-35 vote, surpassing the two-thirds majorities needed to push the bill through.
The tax credits will reduce Maine income tax paid by doctors. Physicians will receive a $6,000 credit in the first year, which will increase every year until the credit reaches $18,000 in the fifth year. After the fifth year, the tax credit expires. Starting this year, as many as five doctors per year can enroll in the program, which will cost the state about $150,000 annually once fully implemented.
Vanessa Santarelli, chief executive officer of the Maine Primary Care Association, did some last-minute lobbying Thursday to ensure passage.
The original House tally in April was 98-45 in favor, which did not leave a vote to spare for an override. The Senate had passed the bill in April without a roll-call vote, so there was no way to know whether enough senators supported the effort to override the veto.
Santarelli said the tax credit is needed to help address a critical shortage of physicians in rural areas. “Maine needs this right now to remain competitive with other states,” she said, adding that other New England states offer more lucrative tax incentives to encourage young doctors to practice in rural areas as a way to offset medical school debt.
LePage did not issue a veto message explaining his decision. His office did not respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, House chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said the need for physicians in rural areas will only increase.
“We have a substantial number of primary care physicians who will be retiring,” he said. “We need to beef up the work force.”
Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, a co-sponsor of the bill, said many people in his district feel the effects of the shortage.
“There’s just not that many doctors,” he said. “People are going without seeing their doctor or traveling long distances to see a doctor.”
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: