In March, Governor Paul LePage announced that he was once again preventing the Land for Maine’s Future Board from borrowing or spending voter-approved land conservation funds. This marks the second time in two years that the Chief Executive has held up the LMF Program until an unrelated bill passes in the legislature. The LePage Administration’s policy decision is impacting more than $13 million in LMF funds, as well as three dozen projects already approved by the board in 2011 and 2014.
As the legislature wrapped up their work in 2015, they considered three proposals tied to the release of LMF money. The first bill, LD 1397, was introduced by the Governor in April. It sought to divert a portion of funds generated by timber harvesting on public lands from the Bureau of Parks and Land to a new low income, energy efficiency program. Governor LePage insisted this bill must pass, before he would allow LMF funds to flow again. In June, the legislature voted against the measure and against linking it to the LMF program.
With the Administration showing no interest in finding a path forward to release the LMF funds, Senator Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) introduced LD 1378, a bill to prevent the Governor from withholding voter-approved bonds for political reasons. Under the proposal, the law would still allow the Chief Executive to withhold borrowing funds for fiscal and other practical reasons. The legislature enacted the bill in late June and the Senate overrode the Governor’s veto on July 16. However, the bill fell six votes short of the two-thirds requirement in the House, sustaining the Governor’s veto.
Following the defeat of LD 1378, LMF supporters quickly turned to a back-up plan. Representative Jeff McCabe (D-Skowhegan) presented an amendment to LD 1454 by offering a resolve to direct the Governor and the Land for Maine’s Future Board to conduct their business in accordance with the law, borrow bonds before they expire, follow protocols to issue grants, and sign necessary paperwork.
As amended, LD 1454 was enacted in both bodies and sent to the Governor, who has quickly announced that he will be vetoing the measure. According to the Maine Constitution, he cannot issue that veto until the legislature reconvenes, which at this point will not be until early January. Until then, the issue of this Governor refusing to borrow or spend LMF bond funds is likely to remain in limbo.