“Socialists love to subsidize new wind and solar energy projects (that) benefit only a few wealthy investors,” Gov. Paul LePage said recently in explaining his opposition to the solar bill in the Legislature that would allow more homeowners, small businesses and towns to install solar energy. That was just before he signed a bill that subsidizes two biomass plants owned by wealthy investors from away, to the tune of $13 million dollars of taxpayer money.

Who knew LePage was a socialist?

It was a high definition display of the destructive effect of excessive partisanship on the hope of building a more sustainable Maine economy for the future.

Over the last 10 days, Augusta has produced two illustrations of that destructiveness. The first was a scathing report card on the Maine economy called “Measures of Growth,” which is produced each year by the non-partisan Maine Development Foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

This year’s version paints a discouraging picture of Maine’s economy in the Paul LePage years. We’re the only state in New England with negative growth. The economic gap between us and the rest of the country is widening. Economic activity is waning, research and development is falling behind, wages are stagnant, poverty and addiction are up and hope is down.

LePage’s response is to travel the state blaming Democrats for blocking his program, whatever that is. With LePage it’s always someone else’s fault, isn’t it? Even though he’s been in office for six years. Our 10-year-old sometimes makes that kind of argument when he does something wrong, but we don’t let him get away with it. I suspect the voters will do the same this November.

Somehow, Republicans managed this week to add a self-inflicted wound to that damaging report. They blocked a solar bill that would bring hundreds of new, quality jobs to Maine, even while they rushed through another bill bailing out the biomass industry. To do that, they managed to employ both sides of the same argument.

They said that biomass is good, even though it requires subsidies, because it provides great jobs and lowers our reliance on foreign oil and gas. Solar, though, is bad because it requires subsidies, produces great jobs and lowers are reliance on that same outside energy.

Watching that exercise in political illogic reminded me of those Cirque du Soleil performers who tie themselves into small knots so that they can pat their own backs. That stuff always makes my back ache, and so did Republican arguments this week.

This is what happens, folks, when people replace common sense with partisan nonsense. What it ends up producing is nothing but convoluted knots of logic, senseless positions and dumb decisions.

Both biomass and solar require us to pay a little more now to get a big payback in the future. That’s called thinking ahead. Planning for the future. And building infrastructure that will enable us to grow.

Both questions also raise exactly the same policy questions. Should we subsidize something, as taxpayers or ratepayers? Is this a good “investment” for us or simply an industry that is dying out or shifting, no matter what we do? Does this investment move us toward energy efficiency that will allow us to hold onto more of the five billions dollars a year we’re now sending to energy states and the Middle East each year?

Let’s be clear: support for the people working in the biomass industry is a good idea. Rural Maine needs all the help we can provide to hold onto the shrinking jobs it has and replace the ones lost in the paper industry. That means supporting biomass, wood pellets, biofuels and any other idea with promise, including new year-round recreation and even some version of a larger North Woods park. But it also means supporting solar power.

What happened this week, if it isn’t reversed when the Legislature take up LePage’s vetoes this Friday, was more than a stunning failure of politics, it was another setback for Republicans trying to maintain control of the Senate next year.

All that we can hope is that between now and Friday a few more Republicans will see the solar light before it’s too late, and have the good sense and courage to override LePage’s expected veto, because it’s the right thing for Maine.

Otherwise, I suspect that the Measures of Growth report and this solar bill are going to cost Republicans dearly, come the fall. And they’ll have nobody to blame but themselves.

Alan Caron owns Caron Communications and is the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

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