Governor LePage used a portion of his 90-minute State of the State address Tuesday to attack one of his favorite targets: land trusts.
The governor blames them for taking too much land from the tax rolls in Maine and shifting the burden to property owners. But there's a problem with his premise; land trusts account for only a small fraction of tax exempt property in Maine.
"The desire to preserve land without benefit to the taxpayer or their input is out of control,” LePage said. “We must restore balance.”
Actually, says Tim Glidden of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, there are a whole list of benefits to taxpayers from land that has been protected from development, and many of the projects wouldn't get off the ground without local input and support.
“There are more than two million acres of working forests, almost 40-thousand acres of farmland, 65 water access points for fishermen, all of those working landscapes, that support the Maine economy and then beyond that there are several thousand miles of trails available for recreation of all kinds,” said Glidden.
The governor also said that land conservation is “out of control.” He stated that $18 billion has been removed from the tax rolls in Maine and implied that groups working to protect land from development are the culprits.
“We, you and I, need to make sure that the large foundations, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who are ripping off the landowner in the state of Maine, need to step up to the plate. They can put all the land they want in conservation, but they have to contribute to society.”
“He's got his facts all wrong about taxation and property taxes and land trusts,” said Lisa Pohlmann, the executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM).
Pohlmann said land trusts are paying taxes or fees in lieu of taxes for almost all of the land in Maine that is conserved, more than 95 percent of it, according to a recent survey. Put another way: of the four million acres in Maine that have been conserved, only about 30-thousand acres in municipalities are tax exempt.
Glidden said most of the 18-billion dollars in tax exempt property comes from a few sources that the governor did not mention.
“From the state, the feds, municipal government, colleges, hospitals, civic organizations of all kinds,” said Glidden. “The amount that is land trusts in there is a vanishingly small fraction.”
In addition, as a percentage of its total size, Maine has a small amount of publicly owned land, less than any other state in New England and one of the lowest rates in the country. That was also not clear from the governor's address and why Pohlmann of the NRCM says it's important to challenge misinformation.