By The BDN Editorial Board
Bangor Daily News editorial
Gov. Paul LePage has opposed many bond proposals during his tenure and is currently holding hostage bonds, already approved by voters, to fund land conservation through the Land for Maine’s Future program. So, the governor’s desire to borrow $112 million to rehab state-owned properties and build new ones in order to move state offices out of leased space is confounding.
LePage wants this bond authority without subjecting it to much scrutiny. Unlike most major state borrowing proposals, which are standalone bills that require public hearings before lawmakers hash out the details, the $112 million bond is contained in one paragraph in the governor’s budget proposal for the next two years. More cynically, the bond would go through the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority, which would not require a public vote, as does most state borrowing.
In addition to the opaque nature of this plan, it is not clear it makes financial sense. According to an analysis by the Department of Administrative and Financial Service, moving out of leased space would save the state $46 million over 35 years. While the analysis did include the costs of borrowing, it did not account for potential large maintenance projects, such as roof repair or a heating system replacement.
For a governor intent on shrinking state government (which he hasn’t done so far), this plan to borrow in order to move state offices rather than consolidating them seems odd.
But not as odd as his selective fondness for borrowing. For weeks, LePage has refused to sign off on LMF bonds, putting numerous projects in jeopardy. The governor says he’ll release the bonds only if lawmakers agree to his plan to increase timber harvesting on state-owned lands. In a letter Monday, LePage told lawmakers that he’d submit the plan soon, so no details are yet known. LePage has said that money from selling the timber would go toward heating assistance.
This could be a fine plan, but it has nothing to do with land conservation and should be debated on its own merits. It should certainly not be used to stop land preservation deals that have been years in the making.
Lawmakers from both parties are so frustrated they’ve proposed legislation to go around the governor. Sen. Roger Katz, a moderate Republican from Augusta, has introduced a bill that would require a governor to issue voter-approved bonds within five years of their passage. A $9.75 million LMF bond approved by voters in 2010 will expire later this year if the governor does not agree to it being sold.
“When the people of Maine have spoken at the ballot box, no one person — even a governor — should be able to veto that decision,” Katz said Tuesday. “Politics is rough enough out here these days, but we should not add to the meanness by holding innocent bystanders hostage.”
Here are some numbers LePage should consider. He was re-elected last year with nearly 295,000 votes. An LMF bond in 2010 received nearly 332,000 votes and another in 2012 got nearly 419,000 votes. This means more people support LMF than LePage.
But Katz is drawing fire from within his own party for standing up for voters, rather than espousing party loyalty at all costs.
“Sen. Katz’s bill and his actions against the governor are once again demonstrating how out of step Sen. Katz is with Republican principles,” House Minority Leader Ken Fredette said in a statement Tuesday. What Republican principles are those? Disregarding the will of the voters? Reneging on business deals?
Instead of attacking one another and issuing ultimatums, lawmakers should ensure the LMF bonds are used for land conservation projects before they expire. They should also consider LePage’s timber harvesting plan as a separate issue and give due diligence to the governor’s plan for state offices in Augusta.