- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Gov. Paul LePage submitted a bill on Wednesday that would keep alive $6.5 million in bonds for land conservation projects that are set to expire because the Republican has refused to sign off on them in an attempt to convince lawmakers to pass one of his top priorities.

The governor’s last-minute bill will be considered by lawmakers Thursday when they return to Augusta to finish the remainder of their work for the year. Their to-do list will be much shorter than they had expected because dozens of bills that they had anticipated that LePage would veto are now the subject of a dispute that’s likely to end up in the Maine Supreme Court.

LePage has refused to sign off on more than $11 million in bonds for the Land for Maine Future program to try to get lawmakers to approve his plan to put $5 million in increased timber harvesting revenue toward programs that help low-income residents cut their heating costs. But the director of Land for Maine’s Future said Tuesday that $6.5 million of those bonds expire this fall unless LePage releases them.

LePage said Wednesday that his bill would extend the life of the bonds until next June. In return, he wants lawmakers to promise that in January they will reconsider his timber harvesting plan.

“If they see my way and they help the people with their heating systems, I’m all in. I’ll sell the bonds tomorrow,” he said in an interview.

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, who has criticized LePage for jeopardizing the bonds, said Democrats would certainly support a plan to keep the bonds alive but said they are interested in extending the bonds for five years. McCabe said LePage’s eleventh-hour proposal shows that he’s concerned that lawmakers will override his veto of a bill that aims to force the governor to release the bonds.

That bill, introduced by Republican Sen. Roger Katz, is among just eight vetoes that lawmakers have to consider on Thursday.

Lawmakers thought they would have their hands full with a slew of veto votes this week, but LePage hasn’t acted on roughly 70 bills that they sent to his desk in the last couple of weeks.

He says he won’t return any more vetoes to the Legislature until they return for at least three days because they adjourned last month, but Attorney General Janet Mills has said that he missed his chance to act on the bills and they are now law.

LePage plans to ask the Maine Supreme Court to weigh in on the dispute, and House Republican Leader Ken Fredette said Wednesday that he doesn’t think that lawmakers should adjourn for the year until the “constitutional conundrum” is resolved.

“What is wrong with simply pausing at this point and saying, if someone is going to pose a question to the law court … let’s get that resolved and then we can act,” he said.

But Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves said he sees no need to extend the session any further and that both chambers will adjourn on Thursday.


Follow Alanna Durkin at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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