With 2 bills at odds, fight over conservation bonds poised to boil over

Good morning from Augusta, where a simmering showdown over conservation bonds and the limits of Gov. Paul LePage’s authority seems poised to finally boil over.

Today, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, will speak with reporters about a bill he’s presenting that would force the governor to release voter-approved bonds. Katz has the backing of four of his Senate GOP colleagues, as well as bipartisan support in the House.

LePage has been holding off on releasing about $11.5 million in voter-approved conservation spending, jeopardizing the future of some 30 land preservation projects throughout Maine.

Lawmakers have recoiled at the Republican governor’s apparent willingness to kill the projects, all of which have already been vetted and approved by the state. Yesterday LePage doubled down on a game of chicken he’s been playing with legislators behind closed doors for months:He announced in a memo that he’d reintroduce a failed bill to open more state land to loggers, and use the added revenue for home heating subsidies.

If the Legislature passes it, he said, he’ll approve the bonds. Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, will introduce the timber-for-heat bill on LePage’s behalf.

So lawmakers are presented with two paths forward to getting the conservation bonds released: Strong arm LePage into releasing the money with Katz’s plan, or make a horse trade to get it done. It should be interesting to watch play out.

Also expected today is a continued debate in the Senate over whether the state should join the national effort to convene a first-of-its-kind Constitutional Convention, with the goal of drafting a federal balanced-budget amendment. Debate on the bill, sponsored by Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, began last week but was tabled because of time constraints.

In the Labor Committee at 1 p.m., a public hearing will be held on a governor’s bill that would prevent individual towns and cities from increasing the minimum wage for employees working within their borders. The bill, sponsored by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, represents an effort by LePage to preempt nascent efforts in Bangor and Portland at raising the minimum wage. — Mario Moretto

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In letter to LePage, Bernie Sanders says GOP budget will hurt Maine

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, everyone’s favorite congressional socialist, has sent letters to the governors of all 50 states decrying the GOP budget bills from both chambers in Congress, which are being melded in conference committee this week.

Sanders, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, wrote to LePage in a letter dated April 26. In it, he decried many of the cuts that Republicans have said are needed to rein in government. He said that under the GOP plan, Mainers would face higher taxes, a loss of health insurance, job losses due to government shrink and cuts to education funding and food assistance programs.

In short, Sanders said: “In my view, the proposals contained in the Republican House and Senate budgets will be devastating for the middle class and working families of our country, and will move us in exactly the wrong direction.”

Now, LePage and Sanders are about as far apart ideologically as any two sitting politicians I can think of, so I’m not inclined to believe Maine’s governor will pay much attention to Sanders’ request that he lobby Maine’s congressional delegation to oppose the budget.

But it is an interesting bit of political theater from Sanders, who is preparing for a presidential bid. It’s not really meant to change the budget conversation in Washington; It’s meant to increase Sanders’ profile nationally.

You can read the full letter here. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

At least it’s not just us

In the roughly two years since I joined the State House press corps, I’ve seen the state office building evacuated a handful of times due to smoke alarms. If it’s not a planned drill, the culprit is always the same — burned popcorn.

Or at least that’s the story that gets to me. Generally, I don’t investigate any further than checking the rumor mill. With deadlines looming, I’m usually too busy to care about why I had to stand outside for 20 minutes. I’m just glad it’s over.

Yesterday, I felt a pang of sympathy for the workers in the Iowa State Capitol, whose work day was similarly halted by an unexpected evacuation. We relied on the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski to reveal the culprit: Kraft Easy Mac. — Mario Moretto (HT: The Hill.)

easy mac

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.