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  • Maine House backs bill to require release of voter-approved bonds held hostage by LePage

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    The House on June 11, 2015 gave its initial approval to a bill that requires governors to issue voter-approved bonds, a measure prompted by Gov. Paul LePage’s holding hostage of Land for Maine’s Future bonds. The vote on LD 1378  was 102-48.

    “This governor has not done anything for sportsmen and sportswomen. He needs to respect the will of the voters and allow $20 million in voter-approved investment to flow across our state,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “The governor is jeopardizing more than 30 projects. He is hurting landowners and Mainers who make their livelihoods in the outdoor economy, especially in rural Maine. I have offered him an olive branch. I am willing to meet him in the middle. I am willing to split my proposed $20 million LMF bond and have $10 million go toward heating assistance to low-income Mainers. I am still waiting to hear from him.”

    Maine voters have supported LMF bonds six times. The program has broad support from Mainers – rural and urban and from the northern, southern, western and eastern parts of the state.

    “I firmly believe Maine voters have spoken at the ballot. No one –  not even the governor – should be able to veto their decisions,” said Rep. Roland “Danny” Martin, D-Sinclair, House chair of the State and Local Government Committee, a former Inland Fisheries and Wildlife commissioner and a member of the Land for Maine’s Future board for eight years during the Baldacci administration. “Land for Maine’s Future matters for each of our state’s 16 counties, but it especially matters for rural Maine. LMF increases access to recreational pursuits like hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling and camping. It’s an important economic driver for Mainers who make their livelihoods in the recreation economy and in related fields like hospitality.”

    Since it was created in 1987, LMF has protected 560,000 acres of conservation and recreation lands, 52 water access sites, 37 farms of more than 8,900 total acres and 20 commercial working waterfront properties. Its projects include Mount Kineo in Moosehead Lake, Nicatous and West Lakes in Hancock County and projects in the Kathadin Forest and along the Machias River.

    “It’s tempting for me to talk about the historic conservation opportunities before us now, or if you've ever pulled up to a favorite cover you've hunted since you were a kid only to find a gate and a Massachusetts plate, my concerns about working forest becoming kingdom lots,” said Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford. “But this is really about good governance. The bonding process provides a lot of opportunity for political input – by the Legislature, the executive and the voters – but now the voters have spoken, and it is time to release the bonds

    Winthrop’s Kennebec Land Trust’s proposed project on Howard Hill is among those now at risk. It

    would transfer to the city of Augusta 164 acres of privately owned  property running from Capitol Street in Augusta to the Hallowell city line, noted Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, the House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. In his floor speech, he quoted Theresa Kerchner, the land trust’s executive director, about the delay in receiving $338,000 in LMF funding.

    “‘Our business plan for the project is based on that award, so we’re very disappointed that we’re in the position we’re in, in terms of the LMF program,’” Hickman quoted. “’So we have to wait it out.’ Let’s cast a vote to help end that wait.”

    LD 1378 would prevent any governor from disregarding the will of voters when it comes to bonds. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, allows for five exceptions: when the debt service would be greater than the amount budgeted; when the issuance hurts the state’s credit rating; when the state treasurer determines a delay will result in a better interest rate; if project is no longer going forward; and when alternative funding is available.

    The bill faces further action in the Senate and House.