House lawmakers voted unanimously Tuesday to renew $6.5 million in Land for Maine’s Future bonds for five years despite the LePage administration’s preference for a shorter, six-month window to revive the expired bonds.
The 147-0 vote was a clear sign of the political support behind the renewal of bonds that Gov. Paul LePage has sought to use as a bargaining chip with state lawmakers. The bonds, which were approved by voters in 2010, expired last fall as LePage fought to gain support for his plan to divert revenues from timber harvesting on state-owned lands to a home heating assistance program.
As a result, several dozen land conservation projects that have received approval from theLand for Maine’s Future board have been in limbo as they have awaited word on funding.
The five-year bond reauthorization bill is expected to pass the Maine Senate as well, although Tuesday’s action in the House underscored that the length of the renewal could influence whether LePage signs or vetoes the bill.
Avery Day, who advises LePage on natural resource issues and is currently acting commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, said Tuesday morning that the governor wants to renew the bonds only for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. That is consistent with the bond reauthorization bill that his administration introduced last year.
But lawmakers and LMF supporters point out that the Maine Constitution gives the Legislature only one chance to reauthorize expired bonds and that the time frame is five years.
“If you consult the Maine Constitution, what you’ll find is that we in the Legislature only get one whack at extending bonds,” said Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford. “I would like to take the full five-year term which is available to us because I believe it actually provides greater flexibility to the chief executive.”
LePage said last month that he planned to issue $5 million in LMF bonds that have not yet expired and that he would also issue the $6.5 million in bonds if the Legislature renewed them. His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, declined to comment on how the governor would respond to a five-year authorization.
“I will only infer he will likely remain consistent with the fact he offered the Legislature an olive branch last year when he sent a bill to them extending the deadline” through June 30, Bennett wrote in an email. “I hope legislators will work to improve the relationship with the executive branch rather than look for minor discrepancies to divide us.”
It would require two-thirds votes in both the House and Senate to override a gubernatorial veto.
The bond bill now heads to the Senate.
Started in 1987, Land for Maine’s Future has helped conserve more than 500,000 acres of working forests, farmland and commercial working waterfronts through land sales or conservation easements. Project applicants must match every dollar from the state with private or federal money, and all conservation land projects also must provide access to the public for recreational activities such as hiking, hunting or fishing.