LePage orders review of forestry tax break he wants to tighten

Gov. Paul LePage issued an executive order on Monday scrutinizing a tax break aimed at preserving commercial woodlots, telling his forestry bureau to reach out to local assessors who administer it and submit a report to his office by December.

The Republican governor wants to tighten the Maine Tree Growth Tax program, which preserves commercial woodlots by giving property tax breaks to their owners. A 2009 state report said 11.1 million acres are enrolled, with 7.5 million in the Unorganized Territory.

That’s been relatively stable since the program was created in the early 1970s and most of the property is owned by families with plots of less than 100 acres. But assessors have long perceived problems with wealthy waterfront landowners using the program to avoid taxes.

Much of the state learned about the program during a 2012 controversy around then-State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin’s use of it to largely avoid paying taxes on 10 acres of a 12-acre property in Georgetown valued at more than $3 million, even though a deed restriction mostly prohibited timber harvesting there.

Poliquin eventually left the program, but the 2009 report cited his property as an example of “problematic enrollment from the municipal perspective.” The Republican has done fine since then, getting twice elected to Congress from Maine’s 2nd District.

Examples like this probably don’t violate the law, but many have argued that they violate the intent. Last year, LePage proposed a bill to bar parcels within 10 miles of the ocean or less than 25 acres from the program, but it went nowhere. The Legislature will consider a similar LePage bill next year and a committee has convened a working group to consider changes.

LePage has often criticized conservation projects for shifting property tax costs to homeowners. He used that “shift” language in the executive order, referencing the entire program.

The order tells the Bureau of Forestry to contact all local assessors to offer help reviewing forestry plans for properties, provide recommendations on how to handle them if asked and help bring non-compliant woodlot owners into compliance. A report is due to LePage on Dec. 15.

Tom Doak, the executive director of Maine Woodland Owners, said the order is in-step with state law and that his group welcomes the state taking a more active approach in helping municipalities to administer the program and there are “a very small number of problems.”

He said many of those can be chalked up to confusion and if that’s found to be a problem, “let’s straighten that out so there aren’t any plans in non-compliance.” But Doak took issue with the order’s “shift” language.

“They’re not demanding any services, so I wouldn’t characterize it that way,” Doak said. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Poliquin reiterated on Tuesday that he wouldn’t vote for an Affordable Care Act repeal without a replacement. That’s one of the options being considered by Senate leaders after all but two Republicans voted yesterday to allow debate on a health care bill. Afterward, the Senate voted against a Republican replacement plan. But while Poliquin opposes the health care law, he voted against a bill that would have axed it without a replacement in 2015. In a lengthy statement, he said he’d do that again if it came up, saying having a replacement ready is “only fair to our families struggling to afford coverage whether it be an Obamacare policy or not.” Poliquin voted in May for House Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the law, which the Congressional Budget Office said would leave 23 million more people uninsured by 2026. — Michael Shepherd
  • A legislative panel is moving toward a 20 percent tax on recreational marijuana. We expected that mark to be the one that the committee overseeing implementation of Maine’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law would land at. On Tuesday, they did, according to the Portland Press Herald. They discussed a plan to place a 10 percent sales tax and a 10 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana that would send 5 percent of revenue to cities and towns that allow it. Recreational sales are delayed until February 2018, but the panel is expected to craft a bill to regulate the market that the Legislature could vote on by September. If one is enacted, sales could start around this time next summer. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Diamonds and rust

I don’t participate in fantasy baseball leagues the way some of my colleagues do (Just call him Mike “Tito” Shepherd, but don’t say anything bad about Francisco Lindor). But I have, since childhood, been fascinated with player development, so I regularly scour minor league rosters for prospects and interesting players. Or at least interesting names.

For example, Cleotha “Chico” Walker played briefly for the Red Sox. But he did not often walk. He is, however, coming to Maine next week to play golf with other former major leaguers for a good cause.

Earlier this week, I came across two pitchers in the Washington Nationals system whose names intrigued me. One is a reliever named Jose Jimenez. There have been quite a few former baseball players with that name, but fans of culturally tone-deaf 1960s comedy probably associate the name with a character created by Bill Dana, who died earlier this year.

On Sunday, Jimenez closed out a seven-inning no-hitter started by another Nationals’ prospect with a name that conjures memories from ‘60s pop culture, Joan Baez. Baseball America rates Baez as the Nationals’ 29th best prospect.

Will he make it from the low minors to the majors? Here’s his soundtrack— Robert Long

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

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.