Are you kidding me?

That was the response of Rep. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, House chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, when he saw the details of a budget proposal for the Maine Turnpike Authority.

“It galls me to think that the turnpike authority’s budget will be just what it was … prior to all the OPEGA problems,” he said during a committee meeting Friday.

A report issued in January by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability cited a series of expenditures by turnpike officials that prompted an inquiry by the Attorney General’s Office.

Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, said it’s as if the turnpike authority is simply asking lawmakers to trust it that money will be spent wisely, after the trust has been shattered.

“Based on the things that have happened in the last few months, I’m sorry — that’s not good enough for me,” Thomas said. “What you’re telling me is that the policy has changed but the budget hasn’t changed to reflect those policy changes. I think we really ought to have a budget that reflects the policy changes.”

Peter Mills, who became the authority’s interim chief after Paul Violette resigned as executive director in March, said he understands lawmakers’ concerns.

“Heavens, I got hired in respect of those concerns,” he said.

But Mills said that the budget was composed in June, and that the report actually showed for the most part that the authority was running well — keeping a good bond rating and maintaining the highway.

“The bombshell in that report was that a relatively small amount of money was disappearing and there were also amounts of money spent on travel and certain credit card expenses that were beyond what … state agencies would regard as proper policy,” he said.

The Transportation Committee is expected to meet again this week to continue reviewing the turnpike authority’s budget.

LURC DECISION BUMPED

The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will meet this afternoon to act on L.D. 1534, which would eliminate the Land Use Regulation Commission. The commission oversees development of Maine’s unorganized territories and about 40 municipalities.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, support the measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Gifford, R-Lincoln.

Raye said last week that LURC has become synonymous with “heavy-handed government bureaucracy and overreach.”

Gifford’s measure would delegate the commission’s responsibilities to county officials and other state agencies.

Democrats on the committee hope to broker a compromise that would delay LURC’s elimination.

Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the ranking House Democrat on the committee, has proposed creating a study commission to look at ways to streamline LURC, examine its structure and report back to the Legislature in January.

CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST ISSUE

The Environment and Natural Resource Committee spent hours Friday working to modify the conflict-of-interest law that is paralyzing the state Board of Environmental Protection and precipitated last month’s resignation of Darryl Brown from the Cabinet.

Gov. Paul LePage proposed a bill to allow otherwise-ineligible members and commissioners of the Department of Environmental Protection to serve, but recuse themselves from certain decisions. The measure has support from leadership in both parties.

Committee members heard from the administration, the Attorney General’s Office and members of the public before voting to endorse a modified version of LePage’s proposal.

The new version would require Cabinet nominees and the administration to present plans for how they would reorganize the department to accommodate any conflict of interest. Permitting authority under the Clean Water Act would be delegated to someone in the department who doesn’t serve at the pleasure of the administration.

The BEP, which has voluntarily suspended its work until the issue is resolved, will be able to return to its duties in mid-June if the legislation passes immediately as an emergency bill, says Sue Lessard, the board’s chair.

The measure will be scheduled for consideration by the Legislature in the coming weeks.

LEPAGE PUSHES ENERGY BILL

Gov. Paul LePage used his weekly radio address on Saturday to push for his bill to limit state-mandated incentives for renewable energy production.

Critics say L.D. 1560 would scare away investment for renewable-energy projects and eliminate jobs. But many of those jobs are temporary, LePage said.

“In reality, these mandates and subsidies will result in a net loss of jobs and increase your electricity costs,” he said. “It simply is not feasible to create jobs in industries that depend on government welfare and it is not a sustainable way to stimulate the economy.”

In the Democrats’ radio message Saturday, Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland, who serves on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, said the bill would undercut job creation without lowering anybody’s electricity bill.

He noted that the energy committee has a tradition of endorsing policies supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Last year, the committee voted out 37 bills with unanimous votes.

“Our collaboration, along with free-market investment and ingenuity, has brought jobs to Maine and has started lowering our energy costs,” Hinck said.

The bill would scale back a law requiring Maine electric utility companies, such as Central Maine Power Co., to get 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2017.

The energy committee is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday.

MaineToday Media State House Writers Rebekah Metzler and Tom Bell contributed to this column.