Republicans stack deck against LURC
June 9, 2011
AUGUSTA – Democrats today fought to block a bill that would create a study committee stacked in favor of abolishing the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) – the body that oversees the planning for the unorganized territory. House Republicans passed the measure in a vote of 75 to 65, after rejecting multiple Democratic amendments that would have ensured an objective and transparent study committee.
“We all agree that LURC needs to change,” said Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, who serves as the lead Democrat on the Agriculture committee, where the matter was first considered. “The problem is the proposed study committee is a stacked deck with a predetermined outcome. Our proposal creates an objective and transparent evaluation.”
The original measure, LD 1534, proposed to eliminate LURC all together, but was amended to create a study committee, referred to as a ‘transition team,’ to ultimately abolish LURC. Members of the Republican study committee would be appointed by the governor, the House speaker, and the Senate president, who have been vocal advocates of eliminating the commission.
"Let’s call it like it is,” said Rep. Jim Dill of Old Town. “This bill is a shovel to bury LURC.”
Earlier this year, Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to rapidly develop 30 percent of the woods in the unorganized territory met resounding criticism statewide.
Democrats on the Agriculture committee also proposed a study committee. Unlike the GOP-backed plan, the Democratic proposal required the committee to meet in public, included a membership of bipartisan lawmakers, and gave specific instructions for a broad review of the strengths and weaknesses of LURC.
“My fear is that this lopsided committee will come out with a report that won’t generate consensus,” said Rep. Peter Kent of Woolwich during the debate in the House. “No consensus is a precursor to no progress, or just bad policy.”
McCabe also introduced two compromise amendments on the floor that would have created a more balanced and objective evaluation, but both were voted down by Republicans.
“Time and time again we offered compromise, and they rejected it,” said McCabe. “Compromise involves two parties.”
The Unorganized Territory represents 52 percent of land mass in Maine with a population of 9,000. LURC has been critical in preventing its overdevelopment.
Rep. Dill said he feared the unraveling of LURC would only lead to “eight mini-LURCs” with more bureaucracy, no consistency, and higher costs.
Piscataquis County officials testified during the public hearing that shift of LURC responsibilities would cost the county $328,137.
“I fear this is going to increase taxes for people in my area,” said Rep. Ken Theriault of Madawaska.
Rep. Bob Duchesne of Hudson said “the bill opens a can of worms that needs to opened, but we need to carefully manage those worms. One worm is, who pays for what?”
Duchesne argued that adding a balanced group of legislators to the committee would bring “experience to the table.”
Duchesne and Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake argued the committee’s recommendation would have a better chance of moving forward if lawmakers were part of the process.
LURC was formed in 1971.
“Ultimately, any change to LURC has to come through the legislature,” said Rep. Terry Hayes of Buckfield, who serves as the assistant House Democratic leader. “Outcomes will be more sustainable if there is more buy-in from lawmakers.”
The bill faces more votes in the House and Senate.
Jodi Quintero [Hayes, McCabe, Dill, Hinck, Duchesne, Martin, Theriault], 287-1488, c. 841-6279