By Christopher Cousins, BDN staff writer
Bangor Daily News news story
AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday that he is drafting a new bill that would extend the window on the sale of $6.5 million in conservation bonds that are set to expire in November until June 2016.
“I’ve told the Legislature from Day One that I’m not against Land for Maine’s Future bonds,” said LePage. “I’m against inequality between the rich and the poor when it comes to legislation. LMF bonds go primarily to people who are wealthy but they’re paid for by the Maine taxpayers.”
LePage said he has submitted his proposal to the Legislature’s Revisor of Statutes, which writes bills, and that the bill should be ready for lawmakers when they convene Thursday morning in Augusta.
“If you want to sell Land for Maine’s Future bonds, I want an equal amount, in this case $5 million, from an account that has $10 million in it, to give to people in rural Maine to convert their heating systems,” the governor said.
LePage said his bill would not include any kind of trade-off provision and that he hopes the Legislature will pass the bill in good faith.
The Maine Constitution gives the Legislature up to two years to extend the original five-year window in which voter-approved bonds must be sold. Preliminary talks about doing so were underway in the Legislature on Wednesday, though it was unclear how far those talks had progressed.
“We’ve been having conversations with our Republican colleagues to find out what is the best process to do that,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, who spoke to the BDN prior to LePage’s announcement. “But the reality is just the fact that the governor is so opposed to the Land for Maine’s Future program that we’re trying to figure out the logistics. Does it make sense to extend it now or wait until later?”
On Tuesday, it was revealed during a meeting of the Land for Maine’s Future board of directors that about $6.5 million of a total of $11.5 million in outstanding voter-approved conservation bonds overseen by the program will expire in November, five years to the day from when they were approved by voters in 2010. Without legislative action, that would effectively scuttle the bond funding because the state traditionally goes to the bond market only in June.
According to Article IX of the Maine Constitution, the Legislature can extend the validity of the bonds for up to five more years, as long as it approves such a move with a majority vote within two years of when the first five-year window expires.
State Treasurer Terry Hayes said Wednesday that there are currently no plans that she is aware of to go back to the bond market prior to June 2016. Hayes said she was directed by LePage to exclude the Land for Maine’s Future bonds from last month’s bond sale.
“I met with him in his office and he told me he wasn’t going to approve the sale of the LMF bonds,” said Hayes. “The governor doesn’t work for me and I don’t work for him. I can duke it out with him but at the end of the day we need the opportunity for the Legislature to reauthorize the bonds. I’m the banker for the state. I’m not the policy maker.”
According to Land for Maine’s Future Director Sarah Demers, there are 30 projects across Maine that have been selected for funding by the organization’s board.
“If funds were available, the funds would be released and projects would close once all of the LMF grant requirements had been fulfilled,” wrote Demers in response to questions from the Bangor Daily News. “At this time there are two projects that have met all of the grant requirements and the other 28 projects are in the process of completing the requirements.”
Demers said she and her staff have been in touch with many of the applicants to tell them that funds are not being made available at this time