by David Trahan
Portland Press Herald op-ed
On June 11, the Maine Senate and House voted by overwhelming, veto-proof majorities to stand with Maine people when it comes to honoring their will as expressed at the ballot box. On Thursday, they should stand firm again.
The issue is Gov. LePage’s continued refusal – for unrelated political reasons – to honor the will of Maine voters and the decisions of a duly elected board, including many of his own Cabinet members – and release Land for Maine’s Future bond funding that would benefit Maine people and economies in 37 communities across 13 Maine counties.
The only issue addressed by the bill in question, L.D. 1378, is whether or not the Legislature will allow any sitting governor to use voter-approved bonds today or in the future as political leverage – as hostages – to advance his own, unrelated political agenda.
A vote to override the governor’s veto of L.D. 1378 says that even governors are accountable to the voters. A vote to uphold the veto of L.D. 1378 says that this governor, and any future governor, does not have to obey voters. It is that simple.
Unfortunately, legislators need to realize that almost everything the governor is saying about this issue – today and in the past – is false.
After holding LMF bonds hostage until he got his way on another unrelated issue (hospital funding), Gov. LePage said the following on June 14, 2013: “As a measure of good faith, I am hereby directing the State Treasurer to begin to prepare those bonds for my signature on an expedited basis.” False. He has still not released the bonds two years later.
The governor has said the LMF bonds benefit only “the rich.” False again. Farmers, fishermen and sportsmen and women from around Maine have testified about how important the program is, providing access to lands critical to their livelihoods.
• Fact: LMF has protected 24 working waterfront access projects in six counties over the last eight years.
• Fact: LMF has completed 40 farmland projects across 10 counties over 28 years.
• Fact: LMF has been an essential tool in preserving Maine sportsmen and women’s access to over 580,000 acres of land over the past three decades.
The governor has claimed he alone has the authority to decide which LMF projects get funding and which do not – “I’m going to look at them one by one … . Some will make it, some won’t.”
Wrong. After LMF funds are approved by voters, a board comprised of members nominated by the governor and approved by the Legislature runs potential projects through a rigorous, publicly designed, 149-page request for proposal, ranking and selection process. Neither this governor, nor any future governor, has a right to take authority away from that board and arbitrarily decide which project – or project backers – he likes or wants to reward.
Finally, this week, the governor is asking individual senators and representatives to change their vote and support his veto of L.D. 1378, claiming the bill runs afoul of the Maine Constitution and suggesting the proposal gives the state treasurer more power. Completely false again. L.D. 1378 does not give the treasurer any additional power.
Neither does L.D. 1378 take away the governor’s discretion regarding the timing of bonds when it comes to considering Maine’s debt service or credit rating, interest rates or whether alternative funding has been found or a project is not proceeding.
The only change is L.D. 1378 makes is to expressly prohibit this governor – or any future governor – from ignoring the will of Maine voters and refusing to issue voter-approved bonds for unrelated, purely political reasons.
Here are three very strong, very positive reasons for state senators and representatives to stick to their position one month ago and vote, again, to support Land for Maine’s Future bonds this week by overriding the governor’s veto of L.D. 1378.
• LMF has been one of the most successful, transparent, nonpolitical and respected programs in Maine for over 28 years, through three gubernatorial administrations.
• Each public LMF dollar approved by Maine voters is matched, on average, by at least $3 in additional investment. So a vote to release $11.47 million in voter-approved LMF bonds this week is a vote to allow well over $30 million in total economic investment in 13 counties across Maine to move forward.
• Finally, one more vote for LMF – like the ones cast a month ago – will mean more access for more Maine people to our state’s best places for hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling and other forms of outdoor recreation.