Is the Maine Legislature’s bipartisan bond deal breaking down?

The Maine Legislature’s 2016 session started last week with leaders heralding a compromise to revive $6.5 million in expired conservation bonds.

But that deal may be breaking down and the House of Representatives may have its first floor kerfuffle of the year on Tuesday.

Last week, House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said they struck a deal to recall a bill from Gov. Paul LePage’s desk to revive $6.5 million in voter-approved bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future program, extending their life for another five years.

The Republican governor was holding up $11.5 million in conservation bonds for most of 2015 in a bid to boost timber harvesting on state lands before abruptly reversing course in December, committing to issue $5 million of the total. The remaining amount expired in November, but last week, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said he’d be “amenable” to re-issuing them.

But on Monday, rumors began circulating in Augusta that LePage now wanted legislators to only extend the life of the bonds through June, even though he was still committing to issue them.

When asked about that on Monday, Bennett said she couldn’t predict what would happen, but she said LePage will “remain consistent” with the “olive branch” he offered to the Legislature to extend the bonds and that she hopes “legislators will work to improve the relationship with the executive branch rather than look for minor discrepancies to divide us.”

On Monday, Fredette didn’t confirm it either, but he called the bill a “work in progress,” saying lawmakers were still trying to “make sure we’re getting everybody on the same page.”

But David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, was sounding an alarm, saying, “We thought the logjam was going to end it appears now that it hasn’t.”

He said his group would oppose extending a shorter extension of the bonds, saying it would give LePage another chance to stall bonds and cause “more disruption” for stalled projects. Trahan said a five-year extension would “easily pass” the Legislature.

The House and Senate voted last week to recall the bill, and it’s expected to hit the House floor to be amended on Tuesday. We’ll see if lawmakers lay this fight bare. –– Michael Shepherd

Maine’s congressional delegation announces State of the Union guests

President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address is set for tonight. The New York Times has primers on the tone he’ll try to strike on terrorism and how he has done on promises made in past addresses.

All members of Congress are allowed one guest. It’s typical to give that honor to a constituent, and they’re often chosen to make a political point. (For example, the 11-person list for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, includes nuns fighting the Affordable Care Act.)

Maine’s delegation is mixing the political with the personal.

  • Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, is taking Tabin Tangila mesu Kamba, a Congolese immigrant who lives in Yarmouth, calling him “a great example of the immigrants” who come to Maine and the U.S. “to escape persecution and to make a life for themselves and their families.”
  • Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, is taking 90-year-old Norman Rossignol of Bangor, an Army veteran of World War II and the Korean War who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and won a Bronze Star, with Poliquin saying he’s “so proud” to represent Rossignol and other veterans, and “I thank them whenever I have the chance for their sacrifices to keep us safe and free.”
  • Sen. Angus King, an independent, is taking Earl Adams of Pittston, who served as Maine’s adjutant general from 1995 to 2001 when King was governor. Adams helped lead the Maine National Guard’s response to the 1998 ice storm.
  • Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, is taking a friend, Portland lawyer Betsey McCandless.

Quick hits

  • Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, and Rep. Karl Ward, R-Dedham, will hold a Tuesday meeting and news conference with families of victims of unsolved murder and missing person cases on “the future” of the cold case unit, which was funded in the Legislature’s last two-year budget.
  • The Maine Democratic Party on Monday called on Poliquin to denounce racial remarks from LePage last week, saying his silence on them shows “tacit approval.” Poliquin and Collins have stayed silent on them so far. King called into MPBN on Tuesday to say the comments “reinforced and validated fears and prejudices” either “inadvertently or advertently.”
  • Those holding Maine driver’s licenses will be able to use them to board commercial flights for another two years, according to a statement from the federal government. Maine is one of 27 states that has received extensions to comply with the REAL ID Act of 2005, several provisions of which the Legislature has voted against. But the federal government is saying states should soon comply, because extensions won’t be given past 2020.
  • A legislative committee voted Monday to back Paul Mercer, who was nominated by LePage to be Maine’s next Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, according to the Portland Press Herald. He faces a Senate vote.

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • A man who was bowling in Portland wants to connect with a fellow male bowler nicknamed “Ghost.” In lanes next to each other, the two went up to bowl at the same time, but “Ghost” let our protagonist go first. “I bowled a strike just for you. You made me nervous and breathless. My heart trembled.”
  • By the title of a post, you’d think someone in Yarmouth is giving away “a ton” of DVD cases. But the owner says there’s only between 30 and 40, “if I had to guess.”
  • A guppy needs to be rescued from a Berwick home because he “does not work in my tank.” He isn’t sick, but the owner says they “dont want to flush him.”
  • Since reading Craigslist for the Daily Brief, I’ve been struck by how many posts in the “Strictly Platonic” section are not at all platonic. This person has had enough. “Can y’all not read? Must make it hard to post on here.” — Michael Shepherd 
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.