If Gov. Paul LePage’s yearslong barricade of Land for Maine’s Future has proven anything, it’s how popular the conservation program is among a broad cross-section of the state.
When the governor held hostage the voter-approved bonds that fund the program, residents from across the political divide responded with one voice, united in their support for an initiative that has protected more than 550,000 acres for a variety of economic and recreational uses.
That response should make it clear that the focus should be on strengthening and tightening the program, not obstructing or trying to dismantle it, as LePage has done for most of his time in office.
FREEING BONDS, BUT NO CHANGE OF HEART
LePage announced this week that he will sell the $5 million in land-acquisition bonds approved by voters in 2012. He also said he would authorize the sale of $6.47 million in bonds approved in 2010, which have since expired but are expected to be revived by the Legislature early next year.
The money pulls out of limbo more than 30 conservation projects, and will leverage federal and privately raised funds to protect important wildlife habitat, public recreation areas, working farmland and coastal access for commercial fishermen.
The governor has made similar promises in the past, only to break them later.
But there are reasons to assume LePage’s commitments will hold this time, not the least of which is the program’s unwavering support from people who don’t often agree: hunters and hikers, urban and rural residents, Democrats and Republicans.
The bonds have always been popular, consistently receiving more than 60 percent of the statewide vote, and David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, told MPBN that polling has found that “over 70 percent, almost 80 percent of Maine people did not appreciate what the governor was doing.”
A change of heart by LePage is not among the reasons why he’s likely to keep his promise, however. Just last week he called the program “corrupt” because it helps only wealthy Mainers, a charge he repeated in a letter Monday to legislative leaders.
That’s the same claim he has made for months now, along with allegations that the value of land bought through the program is artificially inflated to benefit the seller.
It’s why LePage has kept the LMF board from conducting business, and why, departing from precedent, he had his Office of Policy and Management review the program.
That review, which was due Nov. 1, has been completed but not released. If the report contains any bombshells, we’d like to see it, so the problems can be addressed.
LePage is way off base to suggest without evidence that there has been any intentional wrongdoing associated with the program, and he’s wrong to bring it to a halt based on his own biased misconceptions.
THE TRUE PROBLEM: WRONG APPROACH
But he’s not wrong to say the program could work better. Most long-running operations benefit from a thorough review that pinpoints weaknesses.
Instead, long before the review he ordered was completed, LePage chose to be antagonistic, bringing uncertainty and distrust to a program that thrives on reliability.
The governor, not corruption or mismanagement, is the program’s true problem. If he doesn’t want to participate in making it better – by allowing the LMF board to work as it should, and by working in good faith with the program’s supporters, neither of which he has done in the past – the Legislature should at least make sure he can’t bring it to a halt again.
That’s what the people of Maine want. If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now.