Any legislators in doubt about sending Maine voters a borrowing proposal that would revive a popular land conservation program should stop for a moment and reflect on the program’s name: Land for Maine’s Future.
In a state that calls itself Vacationland and where tourism is the leading industry, protecting Maine’s natural resources is a sensible investment in the state’s future.
Since it was created in 1987, the Land for Maine’s Future program has protected approximately 200,000 acres of the state’s best recreational and natural areas in every county.
The properties preserved have ranged from parkland in the suburbs to large expanses of Maine’s North Woods. They have included snowmobile trails, farms, game preserves, beaches and working forests.
However, the state program – which is matched by federal, local and private funds – was forced to stop taking applications for forest and farmland preservation after lawmakers last year failed to agree on a borrowing package.
Lands that could be preserved for general recreational use or as wildlife habitat are in danger of being snatched up by developers in Maine’s fast-paced real estate market.
Now, lawmakers have a chance to ensure that Maine continues to protect the natural scenic resources that make the state unique. A bipartisan coalition of legislators supports bills seeking to borrow $75 million for the program over the next four years.
Gov. John Baldacci also supports borrowing for land conservation, although he advocates a $50 million figure. Lawmakers should decide what the appropriate funding level is and then send the borrowing package to voters.
That will need support from two-thirds of the Legislature, however, and some Republican leaders are wary of the state incurring new debt in these tough economic times.
Lawmakers are right to demand that the state not borrow recklessly. However, Maine voters have indicated by their support of previous bond packages for the Land for Maine’s Future program that they consider it a wise investment of tax dollars. Also, preserving the resources that make Maine a tourist destination protects jobs in that industry and preserves the character of Maine that draws businesses here.
In any case, voting to send a Land for Maine’s Future borrowing package to voters is a fiscally responsible decision by lawmakers for Maine.