AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to force Gov. Paul LePage to release voter-approved bonds and prevent him from using bonds as political bargaining chips in the future died in the House of Representatives on Thursday.
The House voted 91-52 to override LePage’s veto of the bill, falling six votes short of the two-thirds support needed for the legislation to become law.
The bill would have required the state’s governor to authorize all voter-approved bonds except in the most extenuating circumstances. Opponents of the bill said it was too drastic a change in the state’s bonding system, which requires all bonds receive final authorization from the state treasurer and the governor.
“The decision to swipe the state’s credit card should not be made lightly,” said Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, who voted to support LePage’s veto.
The Senate earlier in the day had voted 25-9 to override LePage’s veto. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, was prompted to propose the legislation after LePage made clear that he would not authorize more than $11 million worth of voter-approved bonds meant to purchase private land for conservation.
“The question here is simple,” Katz said. “Will we respect the will of the people or won’t we? It’s remarkable the lengths that some will go to to ignore that will.”
LePage said he’d hold the bonds until the Legislature adopted an unrelated plan to increase the timber harvest on public lands and use the additional timber revenue to pay for home heating assistance programs. All but the governor’s staunchest allies in the Legislature scoffed, saying LePage was defying the will of voters who approved the bonds at the ballot box.
The bill was passed with bipartisan support in the Legislature. LePage’s veto message said it raised constitutional questions about the role of the chief executive.
While the House sustained LePage’s veto, the question of several bonds meant to conserve land through the Land for Maine’s Future program will remain, at least through January.
More than $6 million worth of bonds for the program, which were approved by voters in 2010, are set to expire soon. LePage proposed a last-minute bill on Thursday to give the bonds an extension, seeking to buy more time to negotiate his desired bonds-for-timber deal.
But the bill was amended by House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, to strike the extension and instead instruct LePage to sign the bonds before they expire.
“Maine should not miss out on these conservation and economic opportunities. The voters have told us what they want, and we owe it to them to do all we can to bring these projects to fruition,” McCabe said.
The amendment was adopted 90-52 in the House, and accepted unanimously in the Senate. It was finally enacted in both chambers and sent to the governor.
LePage is expected to veto the bill, but because the Legislature closed the door on the first regular session on Thursday evening, lawmakers will not consider the veto until they reconvene for the 127th Legislature’s second session in January.
An additional $5 million in LMF bonds approved by voters since 2010 also will remain in limbo, with LePage having promised not to authorize the sale of the bonds without the increased timber harvest plan.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.