Senate committee chair: “We are the majority and we get what we want”
May 26, 2011
AUGUSTA –Republicans on the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry committee rejected a compromise amendment from Democrats to a bill, LD 1534, that originally proposed to eliminate the Maine Land Use Regulatory Commission. The Democratic amendment would have created a formal study committee to objectively evaluate a way to improve LURC, made up of opponents and proponents of the committee.
“We offered a strong compromise that set up a formal, objective process to improve LURC,” said Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, who serves as the lead Democrat on the committee. “But they drew a line in the sand and refused to move.”
The Republicans on the committee instead passed an amended version of the proposal to eliminate LURC. The amended proposal creates a ‘transition team’ that would report back to the legislature next year with a way to reform planning for the unorganized territory. Members of the committee would be appointed by the governor, the House speaker, and the Senate president. The governor and the president have been vocal with their desire to eliminate the commission.
LURC oversees the planning and zoning for 10.4 million acres of largely undeveloped land in the northern part of the state. It has been critical in preventing the overdevelopment of the North Woods. Earlier this year, Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to rapidly develop 30 percent of the woods met resounding criticism statewide.
Democrats argued the amended Republican proposal stacked the deck with members who were anti-LURC. They offered three different measures of compromise, including the final amendment from McCabe. The Democratic amendment adopted most of the Republican language but included a balance of appointees and more clearly specified the duties of the committee.
During the committee meeting, Senate Republican Chair Roger Sherman of Aroostook continued a pattern of limiting and cutting off discussion that has occurred each time the committee takes up the controversial Tea Party proposal to exterminate LURC.
At the end of the debate, he said the majority party should get what it wants. “The raw truth is that we already gave up too much.”
"They said they brought us a compromise, but you can’t compromise in a room by yourself,” said McCabe. “The truth is they knew they didn’t have the votes to pass the original bill so they came back to us with a half-baked proposal that they refused to change.”
“We were ready to compromise, but they wouldn’t listen or even consider our alternatives,” Senator Elizabeth Schneider, D-Penobscot. “We came back several times with different offers but they were unwilling to move. Compromise has to go both ways.”
The committee has held five work sessions on multiple proposals to eliminate or improve LURC – all of which were heavily managed by the committee chair who limited discussion.
“The bullish tone from the Republicans has been the underbelly of the entire process,” said Rep. Peter Kent from Woolwich. “We offered three different compromises but instead a document was written by the Senate president’s office and came to us with no intention to compromise or discuss.”
LURC was formed under a Republican legislature in 1971. Republicans in the current legislature have expressed support for it.
“We believe our proposal better represents the more reasonable will of the mebers of both parties in the legislature,” Rep. Jim Dill of Old Town. “The Democrats offered a more responsible and objective approach.”
LURC critics advocated that zoning authority should be delegated to the county officials, though according to testimony presented by Piscataquis County officials the shift of responsibility would cost $328,137.
Opponents have also been critical of the permitting process of LURC. But according to the commission, it has approved more than 91 percent of permits, submitted since 2001.
Jodi Quintero, 287-1488, c. 841-6279