The will of the people has always been respected in Augusta, if not in fact feared.
Legislators and governors have typically deferred to the wisdom of voters when it is expressed by a statewide vote.
Last week Gov. Paul LePage signaled he is willing to flout that precedent when he froze $25 million in community development bond funding approved by voters in 2010.
Eleven small communities in Maine could be hurt by his decision, including three in our region.
Livermore Falls has been granted Communities for Maine’s Future money to redevelop the Lamb Block on Depot Street. The project is nearing the construction phase.
Monmouth, meanwhile, is the conduit for a $400,000 grant for Theatre at Monmouth to renovate a former Grange hall on the theater’s property.
Town Manager Curtis Lunt said contracts are in place and about half the money already spent.
“I trust the governor will not put people out of work or cause a disaster for us,” Holt said Friday. “I hope it’s a misunderstanding.”
Norway Town Manager David Holt last week called the governor’s decision “stunning” and “unfathomable.”
Norway’s $400,000 was to be coupled with other tax credits and donations to renovate the six first-floor storefronts in the historic downtown Opera House and make other improvements. Scores of officials and residents have worked five years to save the prominent 1894 building. The $1.1 million project is set for bidding.
Neither the Governor’s Office nor the Maine Department of Economic Development would comment on the issue last week.
All 11 of the projects were part of a $25 million bond approved by Maine voters on June 8, 2010. Of that money, voters specifically approved $3.5 million for downtown revitalization in Maine communities.
The governor has been openly critical of Maine’s bonding practices, which include allowing some nongovernmental organizations like Maine’s colleges and independent authorities to issue bonds without taxpayer approval.
State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, who shares the governor’s concerns, has argued that Maine’s “moral authority” is attached to those bonds, even though the state would not have a legal obligation to repay those funds if they were not repaid.
By the way, no Maine authority or college has ever failed to meet its bond obligations.
Poliquin has argued that Maine voters should be voting on far more of the state’s bonding.
Which would suggest a philosophical distinction between what voters have approved and what they have not.
Thursday, Orlando Delogu, emeritus professor at the University of Maine School of Law, argued that the governor has no discretionary power to delay voter-approved bonds.
“No such latitude or power exists,” he said Thursday in guest column in the Portland Press Herald.
“On the contrary, the Maine Constitution makes clear that the duty of the governor is to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed.'”
A reasonable person could argue that these 11 communities have poured their hearts and souls into these important projects.
Many have worked for years, solicited donations, received outside grants and spent money preparing to execute these projects.
The governor may disagree, but his job as chief executive is to follow the law and obey the will of the people expressed at the ballot box. He should reconsider and allow these funds to flow.
If he does not, the 11 communities should band together, hire a lawyer and challenge him in court.
Sun Journal, Lewiston (July 8)