Portland Press Herald editorial
There is only one reason for Gov. LePage to seek a six-month renewal of now-expired Land for Maine’s Future bonds, and that’s to gain leverage to continue a fight that has left almost everyone else exasperated.
So after several years of fending off the governor’s attempts to turn the popular conservation program into a bargaining chip, the Legislature cannot afford to move backward.
Tuesday’s unanimous vote in the House of Representatives to renew the bonds for five years was a good sign, and a similar victory is expected in the Senate as soon as Thursday.
It is important that those landslide vote totals hold after the expected veto from the governor, as a loud declaration that the will of voters should be followed, and that the good-faith work of conservation leaders should not be trampled on.
At issue are the $6.5 million in conservation bonds approved by voters in 2010, which, without LePage’s signature, expired last year.
LePage had long used the LMF bonds as leverage, first successfully to gain support for his hospital debt repayment plan, then unsuccessfully to win votes for a home heating assistance program.
But after lawmakers and residents again and again proved their unflinching support for the conservation program, LePage appeared to give in last month, when he announced he would issue $5 million in bonds approved in 2012, and do the same for the 2010 bonds once they were reauthorized by the Legislature.
The bill now before the Legislature would reauthorize the bonds for five years. That is the maximum allowed by law, and it would give the governor the flexibility to borrow money only when Land for Maine’s Future projects are ready, and when interest rates are attractive.
Instead, LePage wants lawmakers to renew the bonds for six months only, until the end of the fiscal year June 30.
If LePage intends to issue the bonds as he has promised, the length of the renewal shouldn’t matter.
But reauthorizing the bonds is a one-shot deal, so establishing a shorter window would start a countdown that the governor could use to pressure legislators. He’d again be able to withhold his signature as a method of negotiation, this time with what could be an absolute deadline for funding a program that he calls “corrupt” but is supported by a healthy majority of Mainers.
The Legislature cannot let that happen. Gov. LePage created this crisis, unnecessarily and out of thin air. After all it has taken to move forward from this crisis, the governor can’t be trusted with the tools to create another one.