After fighting relentlessly for sportsmen as executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine for 18 years, George Smith spent much of his time in later years writing about the outdoors. John Ewing/Staff Photographer, file

Gov. Janet Mills proposed a bond package Friday that would direct $100 million toward transportation maintenance and upgrades and another $40 million over four years for land conservation through the Land for Maine’s Future program.

In a statement, Mills said the conservation portion was included in honor of George Smith, a longtime Maine sportsman and State House fixture who died in February after a long battle with ALS.

“As we push full speed ahead on our economic recovery, now is the time to conserve in perpetuity the natural resources that form the backbone of our rural economy,” the governor said. “In honor of George Smith, a friend to me and a friend to Maine, we are including in our bond package sufficient funds to carry on his beloved program to sustain our heritage – our farms, forests and working waterfronts, saving them from development and making sure they are forever available to fishermen, families and farmers of Maine.”

The bond package is smaller than expected because many capital investment priorities from the Mills administration will be made using federal funding under the American Rescue Plan, including $50 million for transportation. That, combined with the $100 million in proposed new borrowing, would trigger additional matching federal funds to support reconstructing 28 miles of highway and repaving another 304 miles; 68 bridge projects; 74 safety and spot improvement projects, and more.

The $40 million land conservation bond drew support from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a powerful lobbying group once led by Smith that has sway with Republican lawmakers.

“People have flocked to Maine’s public lands and wild areas this past year, reminding us that the need to revitalize Maine’s pre-eminent land conservation program has never been greater,” said David Trahan, the group’s executive director. “It is time for lawmakers to approve LMF funding to ensure public access for traditional recreational uses is guaranteed, to protect wildlife habitat including critical deer yards, and to enhance our natural resource-based industries, the backbone of the state’s rural economy.”

The Land for Maine’s Future program, established in 1987, has conserved more than 600,000 acres of land, more than half of it working lands, including farms and commercial working waterfront properties. But its funding has been depleted in recent years and was often targeted for cuts by former Gov. Paul LePage, who disliked the program.

All bonds must be approved by the Legislature and then go to voters for approval. But the Mills administration said with interest rates at historic lows, the time to invest is now.

Mills already released her $1.1 billion plan this week for how to use Maine’s share of unallocated funds from the American Rescue Plan. It includes three major pieces:

• $260 million in grants and loans for the immediate economic recovery of Maine businesses, including subsidies for health insurance premiums, replenishment of the unemployment trust fund, and funds to support business development among underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

• $305 million for long-term economic growth, with money for research and development, workforce expansion programs, especially in the clean energy field, and regulatory reform to streamline licensing.

• $547 million for infrastructure revitalization, including a statewide broadband network, affordable housing construction, expanded early education and child care, and improving the state’s transportation systems.

Maine’s total share of funds under the American Rescue Plan is about $4.5 billion, but Congress committed nearly $3.2 billion of those funds directly to various recovery efforts, including support for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, enhanced unemployment benefits, stimulus payments to families, and funds for businesses, counties and municipalities, education, behavioral health, child care, and more.

The governor also is expected in the coming days to release her supplemental budget, which will detail how the state plans to use a larger-than-expected revenue surplus.


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