AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has released $5 million in voter-approved land conservation bonds.
The Land for Maine's Future bonds, approved by Maine voters in 2012, had been caught up in a political tug of war between the governor and state lawmakers.
LePage had said he wouldn't release the LMF bonds unless legislators agreed to more timber harvesting on state land. The Republican governor had wanted to use that money to pay for heating assistance for the poor.
In a highly critical letter sent to legislative leaders, LePage says that, "if rich Mainers, wealthy landowners and well-funded conservation organizations are going to benefit from selling their often overvalued properties to the taxpayer-funded LMF program, then senior citizens and other low-income Mainers should get a commensurate benefit."
LePage says taking the land off the tax rolls increases the overall tax burden on the Mainers who can lease afford it.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine and member of a commission that oversees public lands, says there was overwhelming public opposition to the governor's plan.
"wW polled it earlier this year and over 70 percent, almost 80 percent of Maine people did not appreciate what the governor was doing," he says. "I think going into an election year I think the governor's just reacting to the political pressure, which is how the process works."
Trahan says the $5 million released Monday is only half the money LMF supporters are looking for. Another $6.5 million dollars in bonds from 2010 expired last month.
In a letter to the state treasurer, the governor says he'll also issue those bonds if the Legislature acts to reauthorize them.
LePage says, while he respects the will of the people, he "will continue working to defend the Maine taxpayer and find ways to assist our neighbors in need."
In a statement released late Monday, Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau says that he looks forward to the governor's cooperation "as we reauthorize the expired LMF bonds so they can go out to the market as soon as possible.
"Senate Republicans have repeatedly supported efforts to provide heating assistance to low-income Mainers, and we will continue to work collaboratively to achieve that goal," Thibodeau says.