AUGUSTA — Lawmakers rejected Gov. Paul LePage’s effort to veto 65 bills Thursday, but preserved his control over issuing land conservation bonds before adjourning the 127th Legislature, ending a rough-and-tumble session prolonged by multiple vetoes and brinkmanship over the state budget.

The 65 bills were among a group of 70 bills that most legislative leaders and Attorney General Janet Mills say already have become law because LePage missed his 10-day deadline for acting on them. LePage disagrees, and has said he will ask the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to intervene.

The governor’s staff delivered veto messages on the 65 bills to the House clerk and Senate secretary in front of television cameras Thursday morning, a step that ordinarily would prompt lawmakers to begin scheduling override votes.

Instead, the clerk and secretary sent the veto letters to the Office of the Revisor of Statutes, indicating that neither chamber would act on them. The revisor’s office already has begun writing the 65 bills into law, based on the conclusion of leaders that LePage acted too late.

The contested bills affect many policy areas, including General Assistance for asylum seekers, expanded use of a medication used in drug overdoses, property tax breaks for Vietnam War veterans and birth control for MaineCare recipients.

Unless the Maine Supreme Judicial Court sides with LePage, the bills that have become law will remain in force.


LePage has acknowledged that he issued a historic number of vetoes – nearly 170 this session – as retribution for lawmakers rejecting most of his policy initiatives. The Legislature has overturned more than 120 of the vetoes this session.

However, the governor prevailed on one bill Thursday that highlighted lawmakers’ increasing frustration with his propensity for bare-knuckle politics. The bill was designed to limit LePage’s power to withhold bonds that voters already have authorized for land conservation projects. But it failed when several Republicans who previously supported the measure flipped their votes to side with LePage.

The proposal, a response to the governor’s repeated refusal to release over $11 million in conservation bonds earmarked for projects in the Land for Maine’s Future program, had been vetoed by LePage. On Thursday, the Senate voted 25-9 to override the veto, but the effort to overturn the governor fell five votes short in the House of Representatives, 91-52.

A two-thirds vote of those present in the House and Senate is required to override a veto.

The result means that over 30 projects that the LMF board approved to receive funding will continue to languish.

“That’s going to hurt real Mainers,” said Tom Abello, a policy adviser for the Nature Conservancy of Maine. He said the program has helped fund projects that range from working waterfront revitalization to providing access to hunting, fishing and hiking areas.


“Will some find alternative sources of private funding? Maybe. But some will fall through,” he said. “These projects represent the good-faith agreement between private landowners and the state. Some of those landowners are going to be discouraged and move on.”

Nineteen House Republicans supported the bill on enactment. On Thursday, under heavy pressure from LePage officials and members of Republican House leadership, six Republicans switched their votes to sustain the governor’s veto.

The LMF program has helped conserve more than 500,000 acres throughout the state since 1987, through land sales or conservation easements. The majority of those lands were working forest, farmland or commercial waterfront.

The $11 million in bonds being withheld by LePage include $6.5 million in bonds that will expire in November. The deputy state treasurer said this week that those bonds have effectively expired because the administration has no intention of offering them on the market this year.

The conservation bonds have been caught in a tug-of-war since 2013, when LePage refused to authorize the borrowing until the Legislature approved his plan to settle the state’s Medicaid debt to Maine’s hospitals. Although lawmakers approved that plan, LePage never released the bonds. This year he attempted to use the bonds to extract another policy initiative: to increase timber harvesting on public lands and use some of the revenue to fund a home-heating assistance program.

Wary of another broken promise to release the bonds, lawmakers rejected the timber harvesting plan and advanced the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta to remove LePage from the process of authorizing LMF bonds.


The governor, in a four-page veto message, argued that Katz’s bill would “create overall uncertainty in our finely crafted bonding process” and usurp the power of the governor to determine the timing and release of voter-approved bonds.

Katz, an attorney, said from the Senate floor that the governor’s rationale was misguided and is derived from a legal maxim to “make stuff up” when facts and the law are absent from an argument. Katz said the governor had gone to great lengths to make the LMF bonds an issue and defy the will of voters.

House Republican leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette of Newport and the governor’s staff worked hard Thursday to convince Republicans to sustain the governor’s veto. Fredette argued that a vote against the bill wasn’t a vote against LMF.

“I support the Land for Maine’s Future program. I do not support this bill,” he said.

Fredette’s comments underscore the potential political consequences of allowing the LMF projects to languish. The program is fiercely supported by environmental advocates, groups that are active in legislative elections.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said if the LMF program falters, Republicans will be blamed. He said those holding swing district seats would likely be targeted in the next legislative election by Democrats and aligned environmental groups.


“(Rejecting this bill) is just not a smart political move,” Trahan said before the vote.

During a floor speech, Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the House majority leader, relayed State House rumors that the LePage administration had attempted to convince lawmakers to sustain his veto with threats of unfunded projects or funding promises.

“They’ve been promised that if they don’t sustain his veto that they’ll lose out on a project in their district,” McCabe said.

The administration denied McCabe’s assertion that there was a quid pro quo with Republican lawmakers who previously supported the bill. LePage has said he plans to handpick LMF projects, which have already been chosen by a board that includes several of his commissioners.

“I’m going to look at them one by one,” he said during a March 25 forum in Cumberland. “Some will make it, some won’t.”

LePage submitted his own bond bill Thursday that would extend the November expiration date of the $6.5 million in conservation bonds by seven months. That extension would be tied to legislative approval of his plan to cut more timber on the state’s public lands and allocate the money to helping poor people with their winter heating bills.

The House, which is controlled by Democrats, amended LePage’s bond bill, adding language that would require him to release the 2010 conservation bonds. Both chambers of the Legislature endorsed the amended version of the bill in initial votes.

The final outcome of the bill won’t be decided until lawmakers reconvene for a second session in January.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.

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