By Rebekah Metzler, staff writer
AUGUSTA – Legislators of all shapes, sizes and political persuasions rallied together to support bills that would authorize the state to bond new funds for land conservation during a news conference in the State House on Monday.
One bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, has more than 80 co-sponsors and would allocate $87.5 million to the Land for Maine’s Future program over four years.
Similar proposals have been penned by Reps. Herb Adams, D-Portland, and Pat Flood, R-Winthrop.
“Even during today’s challenging times when our state’s primary goal has been rightfully re-directed shorter-term bond proposals (to create immediate growth), it is important that our state’s leaders maintain a visionary long-term strategy with the Land for Maine’s Future program to address the economic and recreational importance of our unique farmland, waterfront and forestry resources,” said Flood, who serves with Diamond on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.
The committee is scheduled to hear three days worth of testimony on an assortment of bond proposals starting Tuesday.
The Land for Maine’s Future program has completed more than 200 land protection projects, including a pair of separate initiatives along the Androscoggin River, but used the last of its funds in July.
Local legislators listed as co-sponsors on Diamond’s proposal are Sens. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, Walter Gooley, R-Farmington, John Nutting, D-Leeds, and Deb Simpson, D-Auburn, and Reps. Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico, Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, L. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, and Dick Wagner, D-Lewiston.
Gov. John Baldacci called for $18 million in land conservation bonds in his $306 million proposal last week, and Diamond said Monday he doesn’t expect the Legislature to authorize the amount he’s seeking.
Flood said legislators need to take the time to determine how much the state can safely afford to borrow.
“It will take time, but it’s absolutely essential and it’s the most critical step in any analysis to determine how much we should expect our people to agree to borrow,” he said.
After the Legislature passes a bonding bill and the governor signs it, voters still have to approve the measure for it to take effect.