Gov. Paul LePage ... proposing a bill

Gov. Paul LePage … proposing a bill


Gov. Paul LePage on Monday reiterated that he will not authorize roughly $11.5 million in voter-approved conservation bonds unless the Legislature approves a new plan to cut more timber on public land and use the new revenue to pay for heating assistance programs.

Details were limited, but in a memo sent to lawmakers on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, LePage said he’d be proposing a bill in the coming days, through Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner.

“This is a modest proposal to help those fellow Mainers who are most in need,” Le- Page said. “The Maine people own this land, and they should benefit from increased timber revenue.”

The memo is the latest development in an ongoing fight involving LePage, conservationists and the Legislature. Lawmakers last year rejected the governor’s timber harvest-heat subsidy plan, with some citing concerns about whether public lands should be treated like commercial forests, and others fearing ecological consequences of increased cutting.

The saga took a turn last month, when LePage first revealed his refusal to release roughly $11.5 million in approved Land for Maine’s Future bonds for land preservation.

That refusal continues to stymie conservationists statewide, some of whom are left watching the clock run out as they try to save property from development. All told, 30 conservation projects around the state are in limbo as LePage holds the voter-approved bonds hostage in an attempt to gain leverage in his timber harvest fight.

The unfunded projects are all awaiting payments approved by voters and vetted by Lands for Maine’s Future, the independent state agency that funds the acquisition of land for preservation.

“I am not releasing the Land for Maine’s Future bonds and will not approve current projects in the Land for Maine’s Future ‘pipeline’ until this timber harvest legislation is sent to my desk,” the governor wrote Monday.

While LePage has said he’ll sign off on the Land for Maine’s Future bonds if the Legislature concedes the timber harvest fight, at least some lawmakers have a different, more direct, solution in mind.

New effort

On Monday, Senate Republicans announced that Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, would introduce a bipartisan effort to force LePage’s hand, requiring him to issue any bonds approved by voters.

Katz declined on Monday to give any additional information on the bill, citing a news conference about the bill scheduled for today. But with both Katz’s and Le- Page’s bills headed to the Legislature soon, the stage is set for a fight over just how — and when — the conservation funds will be released.

Democrats, who have long chafed at LePage’s willingness to use voter-approved bonds as bargaining chips, are likely to back Katz’s play. House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, thanked Katz in a written statement on Monday.

“The governor should not have the power to hold hostage these voter-approved bonds,” McCabe said in the statement. “Many of the projects relying on these bonds are time-sensitive, and the governor is jeopardizing them as he ignores the will of Maine citizens.”

Not the first time

The governor has used bonds as pawns in political battles before. In 2013, he achieved his goal of paying off Maine’s debt to the state’s hospitals in part by refusing to issue voterapproved infrastructure bonds until the Legislature bent to his will.

And on Monday, he said that while he’d be willing to sign off on the bonds if he gets his way, he makes no promises about future bond releases or Land for Maine’s Future projects.

“I continue to have concerns regarding the Land for Maine’s Future program,” he wrote. “By releasing these bonds and approving the projects in the pipeline, I am in no way relinquishing my right to scrutinize and reform this program.”

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