AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine lawmakers approved a measure Tuesday reauthorizing $6.5 million in voter-approved conservation bonds that had gotten wrapped up in a dispute with Gov. Paul LePage.
The House of Representatives unanimously approved the revival of the bonds, and the measure will now go to the Senate. Democrats and Republicans previously agreed to recall expired Land For Maine’s Future bonds, which pay for open-space preservation.
LePage had withheld the bonds and criticized the conservation program, which he called a giveaway to wealthy landowners and an improper use of Maine tax money. He then released $5 million in bonds, though the expired bonds that voters approved in 2010 amounted to another $6.5 million.
LePage had said he would issue the $6.5 million if legislators renewed them. State legislators said Tuesday’s 147-0 vote was a major step toward that goal.
“It will be great to see these voter-approved bonds released and preserving land for recreation and waterfront, forestry and farming jobs,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe (D-Skowhegan).
The lawmakers renewed the bonds for five years while LePage preferred a six-month window. A spokeswoman for LePage declined to comment on how the governor will react to today’s vote. She said the governor offered legislators “an olive branch” by sending them a bill to extend the deadline.
“I hope legislators will work to improve the relationship with the executive branch rather than look for minor discrepancies to divide us,” said the spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett.
House Republicans also touted the authorization of the bonds. House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport said the GOP would have opposed any bills that sought to take power away from LePage in the state’s bonding process.
“House Republicans have always supported the clean reauthorization of these bonds and continue to fully support the will of the voters and the Land for Maine’s Future program,” he said.
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