March 22, 2018
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Lawmakers must hold firm to put Land for Maine’s Future back on track

Bridget Brown | BDN
Bridget Brown | BDN
Mt. Kineo which was acquired through the Land for Maine's Future Program in 1990, rises out of Moosehead Lake in a photo taken in 2007.
By The BDN Editorial Board

Lawmakers have taken strong stands on two important issues in recent weeks, pushing back against an obstinate governor to put two programs — Land for Maine’s Future and Efficiency Maine — back on track. We’d like to see lawmakers continue to stand firm against a governor who is demonstrating no interest in advancing policies to move Maine forward.

In unanimous votes, lawmakers in both chambers on Tuesday overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a measure to fix a typo in a far-reaching 2013 energy law that public utilities commissioners earlier this year interpreted to set a funding cap for energy efficiency projects that was $36 million lower than what lawmakers intended.

When lawmakers return to Augusta next week, they’ll likely face a veto on another bill — a measure to remove the requirement that the governor sign off on bond sales, which would allow a number of Land for Maine’s Future land conservation projects to move forward. Lawmakers should hold firm when the measure goes back to them.

This winter, LePage said he would not sign off on the bonds, which had already been approved by voters, until lawmakers approved his proposal to harvest more timber on public land and use the money to reduce heating costs for senior citizens. (Lawmakers rejected LePage’s timber harvest proposal.) In late May, LePage said he had ordered an investigation of Land for Maine’s Future and criticized the program, which preserves land with guaranteed public access, as being for rich people.

Sen. Roger Katz introduced a bill to remove the requirement that the governor sign off on bond sales, allowing the Land for Maine’s Future bonds to move forward. For this, LePage called Katz “ my enemy” and said the well-respected Republican senator and former mayor of Augusta didn’t like poor people.

There will no doubt be hard lobbying by both supporters and opponents of the legislation as a veto override vote approaches. What lawmakers need to keep in mind is that voters have already approved these bonds — by convincing margins. An Land for Maine’s Future bond in 2010 received nearly 332,000 votes. Another in 2012 got nearly 419,000 votes, both far more than the nearly 295,000 LePage received last year.

By removing the governor’s stranglehold and allowing the Land for Maine’s Future bonds to be sold and 30 projects to be funded, lawmakers are fulfilling the voters’ mandate.

The controversy over funding for Efficiency Maine should never have happened. In March, the Public Utilities Commission took an unexpected vote regarding funding for the Efficiency Maine Trust and that its funding would be $36 million lower than expected. The decision centered around an “and” that was dropped from the law because of a drafting error. Two commissioners said they had to interpret the statute as it was written, not based on legislative intent or the fact that the “and” was in the bill when it was approved by lawmakers and was later dropped due to a “scrivener’s error.”

LD 1215, sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, offered a simple solution — put the missing “and” back in the law.

Even Rep. Ken Fredette, who introduced a competing bill, at the behest of the governor, voted for the bill and later voted to override LePage’s veto. Fredette’s bill would restore the missing “and,” but also calls for the creation of a new state energy department, which would oversee Efficiency Maine. This proposal should never have been part of a straightforward plan to fix the drafting error.

LePage vetoed LD 1215 because it was not the solution he wanted. To add to that, it was sponsored by a Democrat. Late last month, LePage said he would veto all bills sponsored by Democrats until they approved his plan to amend the state constitution to eliminate the state’s income tax.

The resounding votes in favor of LD 1215 showed that lawmakers know this straightforward, simple fix is the right solution.

They shouldn’t waiver from that similar conviction when they reconsider Katz’s measure to rein in the governor’s authority to withhold bonds.

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