Gov. Paul LePage two years ago conditioned the release of bonds already approved by voters on the repayment of a debt to Maine hospitals.
Now, he’s conditioned the release of bond funding for the Land for Maine’s Future program on legislative approval of a measure to increase timber harvesting on state-owned lands. LePage’s proposal would direct the revenues to a fund for energy efficiency improvements and heating system upgrades, largely for low-income, rural residences.
Meanwhile, another LePage-supported initiative earlier this year tied the correction of a typo in state statute on energy efficiency to the creation of a new cabinet-level energy agency.
More recently, the governor pledged to veto any bill sponsored by a Democrat — regardless of its content — until Democrats in the Legislature supported his proposal for a constitutional amendment to eliminate the state income tax.
It’s not unusual for LePage to tie together unrelated policies in an illogical, unproductive and inappropriate quid pro quo. Others in Augusta shouldn’t give in to the tactic.
That’s why it was disappointing to see the Democratic leader in the Maine House on Wednesday do just that.
Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan has proposed a $20 million bond issue for Land for Maine’s Future, the state program with about 30 land conservation and waterfront preservation projects in limbo because of LePage’s refusal to issue bonds that voters approved in 2010 and 2012 by comfortable margins. McCabe’s bond proposal, if approved by the Legislature, would go to voters, offering them the chance to approve a new round of Land for Maine’s Future funding.
During a public hearing Wednesday, McCabe offered to devote half of the $20 million to energy efficiency improvements and heating system upgrades, the cause LePage says lawmakers must support with timber revenues before he releases the previously approved Land for Maine’s Future bonds. McCabe offered the olive branch in an effort to satisfy LePage to the point where he might be willing to sign off on the bonds’ sale.
We appreciate McCabe’s intentions. Augusta could use more olive branches. But LePage, on so many occasions, hasn’t proven himself a willing participant in reasonable negotiations. Instead, he’s more prone to making all-or-nothing ultimatums that link unrelated issues and offer little to the other side in exchange for LePage getting all that he wants. Given this behavior, it’s no wonder LePage has completely marginalized himself in state budget negotiations.
In other words, olive branches are a valuable tool, but only with willing and reasonable partners. LePage is neither.
There’s a better way forward.
Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta has offered legislation that would, in most cases, remove the governor’s ability to thwart the sale of bonds already approved by voters. Regrettably, LePage’s actions have made this change necessary so the will of the voters can be respected, important Land for Maine’s Future projects can advance, and Maine can show it sticks to its commitments — at least most of the time.
If lawmakers are committed both to Land for Maine’s Future and residential heating upgrades, they should approve bond issues for both initiatives separately rather than group two unrelated initiatives into the same package as part of an unguaranteed effort to appease LePage.
Sen. Dawn Hill of Cape Neddick, the assistant Democratic leader in the Maine Senate, has proposed a separate bond issue for $30 million that would direct funds to the Efficiency Maine Trust and the Maine State Housing Authority to pay for residential energy efficiency improvements and money-saving heating system upgrades across the state — largely achieving the same goals mentioned by McCabe and LePage.
Lawmakers can use McCabe’s and Hill’s bond measures — separately — as starting points for a collection of bond proposals that advance critical state priorities. Meanwhile, it’s not worth lawmakers’ time to try to appease LePage.