By Ann-Marie Mastraccio, William Noon and Patricia Hymanson
Seacoast Online news story
In 2010 and 2012, Mainers voted to approve over $14 million in bonds to fund projects by the Land for Maine’s Future program. These projects involve nearly 50,000 acres of conservation land used for recreation, agriculture, water access and wildlife preservation across the state.
In a state that relies heavily on its natural resources, the bonds meant the preservation of Maine’s economic advantages in tourism, agriculture and forestry.
Voters recognized this and overwhelmingly supported the bonds at the polls. Now, Gov. Paul LePage is withholding voter approved funding for some of those. Recently, his administration confirmed that his motive is to gain political leverage for his plan to harvest timber above sustainable levels on public lands.
Not only is this move an obvious attempt at playing politics at the cost of Maine’s lands, but it flies in the face of the democratic process. The funds are voter-approved. Mainers voiced their approval for the bonds, but that decision is being rejected by the governor’s actions.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. The current administration has a history of holding voter-approved bonds hostage for political ransom.
In 2014, LePage withheld bond money to fund restoration and maintenance projects of National Guard centers in Maine, improve higher education facilities and strengthen Maine’s infrastructure.
In 2013, LePage withheld other Land for Maine’s Future bonds and a $50 million transportation bond to repair the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.
Eventually, the governor declared that those bonds would be processed on an expedited basis. But now he is using bonds as leverage for his timber harvesting plan. If not borrowed by November, $6.47 million in funds from earlier bonds could expire by the end of the year. The governor’s actions jeopardize projects that have been in process for years.
Even while the governor claims he is doing this because of heating costs, he is undermining key energy efficiency efforts.
Recently, his appointees on the Public Utilities Commission are undermining energy efficiency programs that put money in the pockets of Maine residents and businesses. In a recent vote, the PUC disregarded the intention of the Legislature and capped funding for the Efficiency Maine Trust at $22 million rather than the $60 million intended by the law.
They did this after seeking clarification about a printing error from legislators who worked on the bipartisan measure in 2013. The PUC disregarded their explanation despite the fact the without the omitted word – “and” – the sentence makes no sense.
In the end, withholding bonds will jeopardize Land for Maine’s Future projects that support local economies. Bonds approved by both the Legislature and the voters are not a political tool for a governor to exploit. They are decisions made by the voters and are sacred to our democracy.
We hope that the governor will work with lawmakers to create sound policy that makes energy costs more affordable for all Mainers and protects our state’s natural resources and respects the will of the people.
Maine state reps. Anne-Marie Mastraccio and William Noon are Democrats representing part of Sanford, Maine. Rep. Patricia Hymanson is a Democrat representing Ogunquit and parts of Sanford, Wells and York.