Gov. Paul LePage made news on several fronts during a nearly hour-long press conference Friday at the Blaine House, which by now you’ve probably read something about.
One of the tidbits we know the least about was LePage’s statement that he has called for an investigation into the Land for Maine’s Future Program.
“The LMF bonds are under investigation. I’ve hired someone to look at them,” said LePage. “We’ll get a response and if they’re legitimate, we’ll have some debate over them.”
Pressed on that point by reporters, LePage would not elaborate.
“That’s it,” he said. “We’ll talk about that later.”
LePage for months has refused to issue $11.5 million in bonds that have been approved by voters since 2010. He has said he will continue to withhold them until the Legislature approves his plan to cut more timber on public land and use the new revenue to pay for a heating assistance program. Thirty conservation projects across Maine, which were identified and contracted by the independent Land for Maine’s Future program, are in limbo.
Criticism of the governor on this topic has been growing. Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta proposed a bill earlier this month that would bar governors from withholding voter-approved bonds.
Until Friday, LePage never mentioned an investigation. Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, released a written statement Friday evening in response to questions from the Bangor Daily News. Here it is in its entirety:
Governor LePage wants to ensure all guidelines pertaining to the LMF bond process have been followed. The Governor requested in April [that the Office in Policy and Management] conduct internal investigations. OPM has the authority and resources to conduct a thorough review of these projects and will take the time necessary to gather facts. Upon a conclusion, details will be provided.
While that statement contradicts LePage saying he “hired” someone to investigate, it could provide deeper explanation about why LePage has refused to sell the bonds. If that’s true, it raises questions about why the governor has also been trying to trade the bonds for legislative approval of his energy goals — and whether with an apparently open investigation, he’d be able to make good on his promise.