By Michael Shepherd, BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
AUGUSTA, Maine — You’re reading it right: The 2016 legislative session started with agreement between legislators and Gov. Paul LePage to revive $6.5 million in expired conservation bonds.
On Wednesday, the Maine House of Representatives recalled a bill from LePage’s desk that leaders said would allow the Republican governor to authorize the bonds for up to five years.
The anticlimactic move, which came without debate, is backed by the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate, and LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor would be “amenable to supporting the reissuance of those bonds.”
It’s a development that would have seemed unlikely a month ago, when LePage was holding up $11.5 million in voter-approved bonds under the Land for Maine’s Future program in a bid to get legislators to approve a plan to increase timber harvesting on state land to fund energy upgrades for low-income Mainers.
In December, LePage abruptly reversed course and said he would issue $5 million in bonds, but the remaining $6.5 million, approved by voters in 2010, officially expired in November.
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, announced the deal Wednesday before the Legislature convened, and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, the bill’s sponsor, said the governor “has taken steps forward” on the bonds and said it’s “not only what the voters wanted but what the governor wants to do at this point.”
The Senate also will have to recall the bill, then both houses will have to approve it. Spokespeople for Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said they also support the move.
Despite his reversal, LePage has talked tough on conservation bonds, saying in a letter to legislative leaders that they drive up property taxes for others.
But Tom Abello, senior policy adviser for the Nature Conservancy in Maine, said he hoped LePage learned more about the economic benefits of the program before agreeing to issue bonds, calling the Wednesday agreement a way to “move the issue quickly and efficiently.”
“Upholding all of the will of the voters is critical,” Abello said.