A state that prides itself on being open for business ought to know what business it is in. Maine’s No. 1 industry is tourism, so it has an interest in preserving public access to woods, coastline, mountaintops and trail systems, just as a paper company cares about its access to trees.
Maine has an opportunity to renew its commitment to protecting its natural features in the form of a rather modest $5 million bond issue to replenish the Land For Maine’s Future fund, which works with towns, nonprofit land trusts and the Department of Conservation to preserve some of our most valuable natural resources.
There is little question about how Maine voters would respond to the opportunity to put aside money in this fund: Since it was created by the voters in 1987, a series of LMF bonds have been popular with Maine people who appreciate how valuable and fragile these features are. All it takes is one reckless development or a private owner who decides to keep the public out, and these sites are gone for good.
The struggle will be getting the bond issue before the voters at all. The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee unanimously endorsed a bill, but instead of packaging it with other bonds as has been done in the past, all the bonds will have to make it through the process as stand-alone bills. That means each will need two-thirds support from both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s signature before going on the ballot.
Which should not be a problem. Maine’s crumbling transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of investment, as lawmakers of both parties understand. Maine’s deeryards, which are being lost to development, also need protection through the LMF program if the sport of deer hunting is going to be able to survive.
Unfortunately, Gov. LePage has threatened to veto bonds if he does not get cuts to MaineCare health insurance coverage for low-income people.
Bonds, the governor said, are just debt, and the state cannot afford to take on more borrowing if it doesn’t cut its costs.
We disagree with the governor’s approach when it comes to paying for health care, and we disagree with his strategy of holding bonds hostage to other policy goals. Regardless of the wisdom of cutting state programs, it does not make sense to block investment in vital natural resources to win political points.
If Maine is really open for business, lawmakers should look at these numbers: According to a study by the Trust for Public Lands, LMF funds return $11 to the state for every $1 spent. LMF not only benefits tourism and outdoor recreation, but also preserves working forests, farms and working waterfront infrastructure.
And if lawmakers are interested in preserving what makes our state unique, they should resist this political power play and support a bond issue that will do that.