Losing ground



To the Editor:

For the second time in three years, Governor Paul LePage is holding up voter-approved bond funds from the State’s Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program. The governor withheld these same bond funds in January of 2013, pending legislative passage of a bill to repay the state’s hospital debt. After the legislature agreed to repay the hospitals, LePage announced, “As a measure of good faith, I am hereby directing the State Treasurer to begin to prepare those bonds for my signature on an expedited basis.”

Last year, the governor borrowed $955,000 for land conservation, but now seems to be backing away from his promise to invest these funds and may not borrow the remaining $11.47 million of LMF dollars – funds that were overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2010 and 2012.

A strong indication that LMF funds are being withheld occurred in late February, when grant recipients that were nearing completion on their projects received the following message from the state’s LMF program director, “At this time the LMF Program is not able to make funds available to applicants.”

The governor’s latest decision to withhold LMF funds contradicts his previous statements, including the good faith commitments his administration made affecting dozens of landowners in July of 2014. This approach erodes the trust between businesses, local community partners and state government, while resulting in lost opportunities to strengthen Maine’s vital tourism, farming, forestry and fishing economies.

Currently, LMF has $2.2 million cash on hand, which would only cover the cost of a small number of the 36 active projects (totaling $11.35 million) that the program has been working to complete. This latest decision jeopardizes the future success of the vast majority of these projects. The projects in question include 50,000 acres of conservation, recreation, forest and agricultural land, located in more than three dozen communities and 13 counties across the state.

If not borrowed by November, more than two-thirds of the funds approved at the ballot box in 2010 – $6.47 million – could expire by the end of 2015. Allowing that to happen would effectively veto the will of Maine people expressed at the ballot box and further erode the quality of a program that enjoys an almost three-decade reputation of excellence.

In 2012, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) conducted an economic analysis of the return on Maine’s investment generated by the LMF program between 1998 and 2011. The TPL study analyzed the past (1998 to 2011) and likely future (over the next ten years) economic returns generated from LMF acquisition spending and found that every $1 invested in land conservation through LMF returned $11 in natural goods and services to the Maine economy.

Tim Glidden

President

Maine Coast Heritage Trust

Topsham

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