GOV. PAUL LEPAGE explains elements of his budget proposal in Brunswick on Thursday. “I am a tough, unreasonable fiscal manager. And I make no apologies for being a fiscal manager,” LePage said. “It’s the only way I see us getting out of debt and prosperous.”

GOV. PAUL LEPAGE explains elements of his budget proposal in Brunswick on Thursday. “I am a tough, unreasonable fiscal manager. And I make no apologies for being a fiscal manager,” LePage said. “It’s the only way I see us getting out of debt and prosperous.”

BRUNSWICK

Gov. Paul LePage wants support from the Land for Maine’s Future program to expand timber harvesting in Maine before he’ll approve $11 million in voter-approved bonds for LMF land deals and other projects. Whether he makes good on his plan to personally decide what projects get funds remains to be seen.

The Portland Press Herald reported last week that LePage would pick and choose which projects to receive funding from bonds, reportedly stating: “Some will make it, some won’t.”

However, state statute authorizes the board to distribute LMF funding.

LePage sidestepped a question from The Times Record over whether he still plans to pick and choose which projects he would approve, as had been reported in the Portland Press Herald, and what criteria he would use in making that decision.

“This is how it works. It’s called leverage,” LePage responded.

Speaking about his two-year budget proposal in Brunswick on Thursday, LePage pushed for passage of the expansion of state timber harvesting to pay for heating assistance.

“Since 2011, the Legislature in Maine has been hellbent on stopping me from lowering energy costs,” LePage said. “Every step of the way they have voted down every issue and every item that we’ve tried to do. So I’ve had to go around the ends and all kinds of ways to get the 80 percent of Mainers on heating oil off heating oil and onto other forms of heating systems. I’ve asked the Legislature for some very simple, innocuous programs. Give me $5 million out of the annual cut of our forests so that I can make that available for lowcost/ no-cost loans to residents in rural areas.”

LePage wants funds from timber harvesting to fund that expansion.

“Land for Maine’s Future is the reason why I didn’t get the money,” LePage said. “So, until they come around and help me, I won’t help them. It’s that simple. It’s called leveraging.”

According to LePage, Maine owns 880,000 acres of land, of which 65 percent of the annual tree growth is cut. The governor wants to see 100 percent of annual growth cut.

“If you cut 100 percent of the annual growth, the forest never changes. It’s always going to be where it is today,” he said.

LePage said his plan would also help keep the budworm, a pest he said damages Maine’s forests, in check.

LePage’s call to personally choose which projects are funded is troubling to local land trusts.

“That’s frightening, and that’s a shame, given what a good and rigorous process Land for Maine’s Future has to select projects,” said Katrina Van Dusen of Freeport Conservation Trust, one of about 30 projects that had been approved for LMF funding that now find themselves in limbo.

The trust was depending on $105,000 of LMF funding in order to preserve 38 acres of Winterwood Farm, a roughly 45-acre horse farm owned by Robert and Simone Rodgers.

LePage is putting all land trusts “in a perilous position,” Van Dusen said, forcing trusts to use politics and guesswork to garner the governor’s support.

LMF Director Sarah Demers said she has not been given any official word regarding a selection process from LePage’s office. LMF has $2.2 million cash on hand.

“We have several projects ready to close, and which have not closed because cash is not available,” said Demers.

Voters have approved a number of LMF bond requests since 2010 totaling $11.35 million. LePage promised to begin signing off on those bonds in 2013 after the Legislature agreed to pay off the state’s hospital debt.

Established in 1987, LMF is the state’s primary funding vehicle for conserving land for nature and recreation. Now that program has been “hijacked by the governor,” said Richard Knox, spokesman for Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

“The governor does not have statutory authority to make these decisions,” said Knox.

With the exception of one, all board members are LePage appointees, Knox noted.

LePage’s decision to withhold funds has been lambasted in newspaper editorials, and was mentioned in a critical op-ed in the New York Times on Thursday.

LePage said reducing energy costs must be done “hand-in-hand” with tax reform to keep residents from leaving Maine and encouraging growth.

“It doesn’t sound that complicated, but boy-oh-boy, I get up in the mornings, and I’ve got horns, I’ve got a stake with fire coming all over me, I’m trying to kill everybody,” LePage said.

[email protected]timesrecord.com

Cut it all

ACCORDING TO Gov. LePage, Maine owns 880,000 acres of land, of which 65 percent of the annual tree growth is cut. The governor wants to see 100 percent of annual growth cut.


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