AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to revive $6.5 million in expired conservation bonds sailed unanimously through the Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday, despite Gov. Paul LePage’s desire for a shorter sunset provision.
The bipartisan deal was struck last week between legislative leaders. However, just ahead of the vote, behind-the-scenes wrangling resurfaced over the proposal, which would extend the bonds approved by voters in 2010 under the Land for Maine’s Future program for another five years.
They expired in November after LePage spent most of the year holding back $11.5 million in bonds in a bid to increase timber harvest limits on state land. He reversed course in December, when he committed to issue $5 million in bonds but the others remained in limbo.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said on the House floor Tuesday that LePage asked lawmakers to extend the expired bonds only through June, when he has said he intends on authorizing their sale.
Fredette, a LePage ally, said he felt that was placed “in a box” by only being able to vote for or against extending them for five years. But citing the will of voters, he supported the bill.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett declined to comment about the Legislature’s vote Tuesday, referring a reporter to a Monday statement when she said LePage will “likely remain consistent” with the “olive branch” he offered to the Legislature to extend the bonds and she has said he’d be “amenable” to issuing them.
The proposal now moves to the Senate, where President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said the bill likely would pass easily.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which supports the bonds, called the Tuesday action “a strong message” to LePage, imploring him to “do the right thing and be done with this issue.”
“I think that the vote was so strong that the governor will let it go,” Trahan said.