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  • Maine House lawmakers unanimously backs land preservation bonds despite Gov. LePage

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine House of Representatives on January 12, 2016, unanimously gave its initial approval to a measure reauthorizing $6.5 million in voter-approved Land for Maine’s Future bonds as part of a bipartisan effort to revive the expired bonds. Some of these voter-approved bonds date back to the Baldacci administration. The vote was 147-0.

    “The fight to fully fund Land for Maine’s Future proved to be a truly bipartisan effort. Legislators on both sides of the aisle who understand the critical importance of preserving Maine’s natural resources and securing our economic future joined together to ensure that our state’s most vital land conservation program will continue to provide access for all Mainers,” said Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford, an avid hunter and supporter of Land for Maine’s Future.

    An amendment from Grohman stripped the original text of LD 1454 and replaced it with a 5-year reauthorization of bonds approved by voters in 2010. The bonds expired in November, on the first regular day of the deer hunting season, when Gov. Paul LePage did not release them.

    “Today was a win for voters, outdoorsmen and women, outdoor recreation businesses and other Mainers who recognize the importance of Land for Maine’s Future to our economy – particularly for rural Maine. It will be great to see these voter-approved bonds released and preserving land for recreation and waterfront, forestry and farming jobs,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, a Maine guide and a leading proponent in the effort to free the bonds.

    “We are delighted that legislators voted unanimously today to reinstate the 2010 Land for Maine's Future bond that expired in November,” said Beth Ahearn, legislative director for Maine Conservation Voters.  “Already promised LMF funding can now be invested in more than 30 projects across Maine to benefit our economy and provide recreational opportunities to all.”

     The Legislature opened the second session by coming together on this issue. The House on the first day of session passed an order to recall LD 1454 from the governor’s desk, and the Senate followed suit. The cooperation prevented a veto of the bill and provided the opportunity to amend it.

    LD 1454 faces further votes in the House and Senate.

     

  • LePage releases a fraction of Land for Maine’s Future funds but still holds $11.5 million hostage

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    Governor Paul LePage has reluctantly agreed to release $2.2 million for Land for Maine’s Future projects, but is still refusing to sell new voter approved bonds for the land conservation program.

    LePage’s decision to free up the money will allow several projects that have been stalled for to move forward. 

    For months, LePage has been holding $11.5 million for the program hostage as he pushes lawmakers to divert revenues from timber harvesting on state-owned lands into a new program, apparently, to help low-income Mainers heat their homes.

    “This is a first step, but we're right back where we were a month ago when we first learned the governor was trying to freeze LMF work entirely,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond. “The governor is still holding $11.5 million of voter-approved bonds hostage in his outrageous attempt to extort concessions from the Legislature.”

    The millions of dollars of bond funding is slated to support conservation projects in dozens of communities around the state. These projects protect recreational wildlife areas, working waterfronts and family farms. 

    LePage also had frozen $2.2 million left over from bond sales approved during the Baldacci administration, considered an outrageous deed of not acting in accordance to the wishes of the voters of Maine. 

    It is these $2.2 million worth of bonds that will go toward projects that already have been endorsed by the board and have been waiting for the release of the funds— for years. All projects must match the Land for Maine’s Future dollars with money from other sources, and the taxpayer money carries an additional requirement that the land must remain open to the public for recreation.

    The Crooked River Forest project in Otisfield/Harrison and the Eagle Bluff project in Clifton will receive roughly $400,000 of the $1.6 million. A third project, which would protect a commercial fishing wharf in St. George, will receive $250,000. Another $199,600 is available for farmland preservation.

    The remaining funds will not cover all eligible projects already lined up.

     In addition lawmakers will have to reauthorize some bonds that expire because of LePage’s delaying tactics next month. When the Legislature returns in January, lawmakers will consider a bill to reauthorize $6.5 million in unsold bonds that will expire in November. 

    LePage has shown few signs that he will reverse course on selling new bonds without lawmakers agreeing to his hostage terms to funnel timber revenues into a home heating assistance program. Attorney General Janet Mills said courts would be skeptical of his plan because of the tight restrictions on how logging money can be spent.

    According to the polling firms – one Republican and the other Democratic — 74 percent of respondents said LePage should release voter-approved bond funds.

     

     

  • New poll finds Maine electorate overwhelmingly supports release of Land for Maine’s Future funds

    91 percent Democrats, 76 percent Independents, 54 percent Republicans from every region of the state support Legislation to Release Voter-Approved Bonds Even When They Hear Other Arguments

    By Ramona du Houx

    Governor Paul LePage has held funds to protect and preserve land in Maine for all Mainers hostage. The program he is strangling is called Land for Maine's Future, LMF. The program expanded areas in Baxter Park, and across the state under the Baldacci administration. But nothing has been done to preserve lands with the LePage administration. In fact, the opposite has happened with more land being opened to loggers. LePage has also tried to stop the board of LMF from functioning. The people of Maine love their state, and the evidence is in with a new poll which shows strong support for LMF.

    “This poll is the latest indication that Maine people, across the state and from all walks of life, are benefitting from and valuing the economic importance of Land for Maine’s Future investments,” shared Maine Coast Heritage Trust President Tim Glidden. “It is time policymakers empower this popular land conservation program, so that it can once again fulfill the wishes of Maine voters.”  

    Headed into the next legislative session, new data from the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates finds that Maine Democrats, Independents and Republicans from every part of the state overwhelmingly support the release of all voter-approved Land for Maine’s Future funds even when they hear a simulation of the debate that has been occurring on the issue. 

    “We have heard months of debate and suggestions that LMF only benefits the wealthy or that voter-approved bond funds can be used as political leverage,” said Tom Abello, Senior Policy Advisor at The Nature Conservancy in Maine.  “What this poll tells us is that voters know better and are not buying any of it.  We hope Legislators are listening.” 

    It's important to note out door sports enthusiasts support LMF.

    “Understanding how valuable LMF investments are to trengthening our economy, especially in rural areas, I am not at all surprised by these numbers”  said Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine Executive Director David Trahan. “Sportsmen and women and outdoor groups know that LMF benefits all Mainers, not the rich.  We again ask the Governor and legislators to listen and release LMF funds now.”  

    Highlights:

    • 74 percent  - Overall support for releasing LMF funds: Given a brief, neutral explanation of the two perspectives on LMF funding (see attached memo), 74 percent of Maine people say the Governor should release voter-approved bond funds. 
    • Only 16 percent side with the idea that the Governor should not release LMF funds.  Those supporting the release of LMF funds include:

    -          91 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents and 54 percent of Republicans.

    -          More than 70 percent of Mainers in every region of the state: coastal Maine (75 percent), Northeast (76 percent), South (76 percent) and Central (72 percent)

    By a margin of 79 percent to 16 percent Maine voters reject withholding LMF bonds until the Legislature approves an unrelated law to use revenue from timber harvests on state lands to fund a separate government program to help low-income Maine residents upgrade their heating systems.  Seventy-nine percent chose, instead, to support the view that “once the people of Maine have spoken at the ballot box, no one individual – even the Governor – ought to have the right to veto that decision.”

    By a margin of 73 percent to 12 percent of Maine voters believe that LMF funds benefit all Mainers and visitors versus only benefiting “wealthy landowners.” 

    “We are not surprised to see such strong support for LMF regardless of political affiliation or region in Maine,” said Wolfe Tone of The Trust for Public Land.  “Voters have overwhelmingly approved these bonds at the ballot box six times.  With more than 30 projects in limbo across the state, Mainers understand how withholding LMF funds is hurting their own local economy. It is time to release LMF funding and allow these investments to move forward.”