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Politics

Maine House Votes to Renew $6.5 Million in Conservation Bonds

AUGUSTA, Maine — After some last minute wrangling, the Maine House voted to give all but final approval to $6.5 million in land conservation bonds that expired last fall.

The vote was unanimous.

A plan agreed to last week by the House, Senate and the governor gave the state up to five years to issue the bonds. But at the last minute, legislative leaders said they learned that the governor wanted to change the timetable and require the bonds to be authorized by June 30.

Supporters of the Land for Maine's Future program say the governor's office had originally signed off on a five-year timetable to issue $6.5 million dollars in bonds. These are bonds that had been approved by Maine voters in 2010.

Then Beth Ahearn of Maine Conservation Voters said her group learned the LePage administration wanted to set a six-month window for authorizing the bonds.

"We were hearing rumors about that yesterday," Ahearn says.

But lawmakers didn't want that to happen. House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe said they were concerned the shorter timetable would jeopardize a more favorable interest rate.

So Democrats and Republicans responded quickly to crank out a bill to reauthorize the bonds that had expired last November after Gov. Paul LePage refused to issue them. At that time, the governor said he would hold them until lawmakers agreed to allow more timber harvested from public lands as a way to help poor Mainers with their heating bills.

By noon, the House had voted unanimously to give the LMF bill all but final approval and sent it off to the Senate. McCabe said lawmakers have had too many bad experiences with the governor and didn't want to take any chances.

"You know I think that all along with the Land For Maine's Future Bonds, I think the big issue has been sort of a lack of trust — and I'm hoping that we can move forward," McCabe says.

House Republican Leader Ken Fredette said that he had understood that the governor was looking at a six month-timetable and that the bill before him was to either support the LMF bonds issuance over a five-year timetable or not.

"I trust the chief executive is going to fulfill his obligations as he has said," Fredette said. "In a position where I am today, that I either have to vote for reauthorization for five years or not to reauthorize at all — I feel that I'm in a box."

For his part, LePage didn't expand much on why a six-month window for issuing bonds was more desirable than five years. Instead, he simply advised lawmakers to make sure they sent him bills with veto-proof margins.

"Legislature this year can do what legislators do — as long it comes to my desk with two-thirds, they're all set," LePage says.

Thibodeau says he wasn't aware that LePage wanted a six-month window, adding that he looked forward to receiving the House bill on Thursday.