“The next person who says things are slow on the political beat is going to get smacked.” — BDN editor on Monday evening
Monday was a relatively quiet day in political news until about 4:30 p.m. when Gov. Paul LePage made an announcement that even a few days ago, no one expected or could have predicted: He has decided to release $5 million in voter-approved conservation bonds that he has been blocking for months.
It was a stunning development, especially since the governor’s promises to oppose the Land for Maine’s Future program have continued right up until last week at a town hall forum he hosted at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.
“I am not going to sign off on a bill that’s going to give 164 acres to a town and two people are going to make a half million each,” said LePage during the forum, just a minute or two before it ended amid comments and questions being shouted from the audience. “That’s gouging the taxpayers. I won’t do it and it’s corrupt.”
LePage hasn’t changed his mind about Land for Maine’s Future. His letter to lawmakers on Monday was scathing. But he did change his mind about releasing the bonds, which were approved by voters in 2012, which Tom Abello of The Nature Conservancy said “will be met with cheers and joy across the state.”
The obvious question is: Why the sudden change?
LePage’s Office of Policy and Management has been working with the Land for Maine’s Future board for months, conducting an investigation into the organization’s practices, including how it assesses land values. That report, headed by Office of Policy and Management Director Jonathan LaBonte, was due for release last month but to date it has not been released. I asked the LePage administration on Monday what the status of that report is, but as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, they have not responded.
Most of the time that report was under development, the Land for Maine’s Future board was unable to operate because three of LePage’s commissioners were not attending meetings and for a while, LePage froze the organization’s budget, including money it had on hand from donations and previous taxpayer-funded bonds.
Whatever the contents of that report, it’s safe to say that public opinion on this issue has weighed heavily on LePage. Many of the people who are the governor’s greatest allies — such as the sportsmen and women of the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine — have been openly critical of the governor on this issue for months.
And according to House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, there have been people across Maine collecting signatures in a symbolic effort to convince LePage to authorize the bond sales.
“The Land for Maine’s Future coalition were at the polls in Republican districts gathering signatures,” said McCabe. “I think the polling data was there. I know going into the 2016 elections, the Republicans are really worried about the bonds as a campaign issue.”
Pressure on Republicans and the governor won’t let up until the rest of the voter-approved bonds — $6.45 million that voters OKed at referendum in 2010 — are reauthorized and signed by the governor. Republican Rep. Matt Pouliot of Augusta has a bill to do just that, which lawmakers will take up when they return to Augusta a few weeks from now. — Christopher Cousins
PUC to take up ‘and’ typo this morning
The Maine Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to vote this morning on a rule to fix one of its most controversial denominators, a problem stemming from the infamous missing “and” in the Omnibus Energy Bill of 2013.
The new rule specifies that funding for the Efficiency Maine Trust should be capped at 4 percent of all retail electricity _and_ transmission and distribution sales in the state. The missing “and” caused commissioners to exclude T&D sales, which meant the cap for Efficiency Maine funding would be much lower than under the rule up for a vote Tuesday. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. — Darren Fishell
LePage to take town hall tour to Waterville on Thursday
The governor will continue his town hall tour across Maine on Thursday when he visits Waterville Junior High School at 100 W. River Road beginning at 6 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.
For the most part, LePage has stuck to a script during the town hall meetings, focusing on his goals or reducing the state’s income tax, reforming social services, cutting energy costs and addressing Maine’s high student debt burden. There have been some tense moments during the question-and-answer periods that the events culminate in, but these meetings are rare and interesting opportunities for Mainers to hear LePage explain his positions in a usually relaxed atmosphere and without time constraints. — Christopher Cousins
- LePage tells lawmakers he’ll release $5 million in conservation bonds — Christopher Cousins, BDN
- Processing speed becomes latest flashpoint in Maine food stamps fight — Michael Shepherd, BDN
- LePage, Michaud find common ground: Jobs for Maine veterans — Darren Fishell, BDN
- Shenna Bellows hired as interim head of Portland education nonprofit — Michael Shepherd, BDN
- Bangor City Council votes to raise the city’s minimum wage — Nick McCrea, BDN
- Maine legislative leaders to consider gun ban option — Mal Leary, MPBN
- At Las Vegas debate, Republican Cruz may have a Trump problem — Steve Holland, Reuters
A Bangor Daily News team has been working for months on a big-picture investigative analysis on Maine’s ailments and attributes in a multimedia presentation called #THEECONOMYPROJECT. The series started broadly with a survey of more than 2,000 Mainers and has been whittled down to the top three themes. here are the links, for your convenience.
- Introduction: Where is Maine going? — Erin Rhoda, BDN
- Population: Maine needs a central hub to attract more immigrants — Seth Koenig, BDN
- Education: Maine already knows how to fix its schools. It just needs leadership — Erin Rhoda, BDN
- Innovation: Before Maine can help entrepreneurs, it needs to understand them — Dan MacLeod, BDN
Congratulations to the BDN’s Seth Koenig, Dan MacLeod, Pattie Reaves and Erin Rhoda. Be sure to let them know what you think of the project. — Christopher Cousins
Correction: The best Springsteen
Blogging is not for the faint of heart. Even posting links to music comes with risk. I started out putting music in the Daily Brief basically to amuse myself but have received many positive comments from people who say they actually listen to the music.
On Friday, by request, I linked to a live-via-YouTube Bruce Springsteen performance I said was the best I’d seen. A Daily Brief reader took issue with that and sent me this gem from Springsteen, which begins with a heart-rending story about his torn childhood.
I stand corrected. — Christopher Cousins