LePage proposes Tree Growth tightening that would have barred Poliquin

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage has submitted yet another late bill to the Legislature, this time in a bid to increase the amount of wood cut in southern Maine.

The timing could sink the bill, as it’s three weeks from the end of the 2016 legislative session, leaving lawmakers little time to consider it.

But the bill is interesting because it would limit access to Maine’s Tree Growth program, the law giving property tax breaks to landowners who manage forests for commercial timber harvesting. It wouldn’t allow into the program parcels that are within 10 miles of the ocean or cover less than 25 acres.

LePage asked lawmakers for more authority after the recent announcement that the Madison paper mill will close in May. He said in a March letter to legislative leaders that not enough wood is being cut in southern Maine and the program “must be better managed to lower the cost of wood.”

Coastal property is a main weakness of the law, with a 2009 state report that cited a wide concern that coastal landowners are in the program to simply “avoid paying their fair share of local property taxes” and that many local tax assessors didn’t know that they could reject applications.

The Tree Growth program made lots of headlines in 2012 because it was a major issue for Bruce Poliquin as he served as state treasurer. Now, the Republican represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, but he still owns a 12-acre oceanfront estate in Georgetown, valued by the town at $3.4 million.

He once had 10 acres of the property in the program, even though a deed restriction largely prohibits timber harvesting. The property was cited in the state report as an example of “problematic enrollment.”

Poliquin was criticized for it before pulling the land out of the program in 2012. He wasn’t penalized and broke no law, but the controversy has followed him, appearing in attack ads and candidate debates since then.

It’s sure to reappear during his 2016 rematch with Democrat Emily Cain, but the property never would have qualified if LePage’s proposed limits were in place. — Michael Shepherd

House passes bill scrutinizing rules on intellectual disability programs

The Maine House of Representatives approved a bill Wednesday that would impose legislative review on the LePage administration’s proposed rule changes to services for people with autism or other intellectual disabilities.

It came after outcry from families after the administration proposed a test used by 22 other states to determine a person’s capabilities and the amount of paid support they need.

Affected parties used a rare petition maneuver to force an initial legislative review that resulted in the bill. The petition has since been used by those fighting another rule change for services to mentally ill Mainers.

The bill was supported 83-64 in a mostly party-line vote, with Democrats supporting it. It now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Things got nasty on Wednesday after House Republicans overrode a LePage veto of a unanimously passed bill that aimed to speed up health assessments of children entering state custody. LePage called it “micromanagement” of the executive branch” and Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, the bill’s sponsor, criticized House Republicans for “blind, unthinking partisan loyalty.”
  • Maine’s Janet Mills was one of 18 attorneys general to sign a letter supporting the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, a set of rules limiting carbon power plant pollution. In November, the Democrat joined an effort to fight a lawsuit against the plan from coal-reliant states.
  • Thursday is the first Trans Day at the State House. Transgender advocates say they’ll hold a press conference and lobby lawmakers on protecting students from discrimination.

Reading list

What’s LePage’s impact on the newspaper industry?

LePage has been working a line about how he’s not a fan of Maine’s newspapers into most of his town hall meetings, but it took a bit of an ironic twist on Thursday in Madison.

The town’s mill is closing in part due to a struggling print newspaper industry and lower demand for the glossy, supercalendared paper the Madison mill makes, which is used for newspaper inserts.

At the town hall, LePage said he doesn’t read newspaper, but “I sell a lot of them.” But that irony wasn’t lost on Scott Monroe, my old boss and the managing editor at the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.

“If he helps sell so many newspapers, why the low demand?” he tweeted.

My thoughts exactly. Here’s the governor’s soundtrack.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.