Final Month of 2024 Legislative Session

With the Maine Legislature set to adjourn in mid-April, policymakers are busy wrapping up work on what remains of the more than 2,250 bills that legislators have introduced over the past fifteen months. Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) has been tracking and promoting a variety of initiatives in 2024, including the following legislative proposals.

Sales Tax and Open Space

In February, we reported on progress being made to enact improvements to the Open Space current use tax program and a proposal to extend sales tax exemption to all nonprofits including land trusts (February 2024 Policy Update). Both efforts continue to move slowly through the legislative process. We expect the Open Space bill to come out of the Taxation Committee soon and the Appropriations Committee is busy considering the sales tax exemption along with other aspects of the Governor’s Supplemental Budget.

Trails Bond

In 2023, MCHT joined a coalition of organizations and businesses in support of a $30 million Trails Bond (LD 1156). The proposal calls for an annual investment of $7.5 million over four years to enhance recreational trail infrastructure around the state. If approved by two-thirds of the legislature, the bond request would need to be ratified by a majority of Maine voters. We anticipate votes in the full legislature towards the end of the session in mid-April. Outreach to legislators will be most effective as those votes approach. MCHT will continue to track this legislation and provide timely updates.

LMF Funding

The Governor and legislature appropriated $40 million to the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program in 2021, and the LMF Board will have allocated most of these dollars by the end of this year. We are busy working to secure new funds for 2025 and beyond, initially looking to this year’s Supplemental Budget. However, after the three major storms hit this winter, it became clear that the state had more immediate needs to address. Any significant investments in LMF will need to wait, but we have already received some indications that policymakers will be interested in addressing LMF funding needs in 2025.

Mining Excise Tax

In the meantime, we are working on LD 2251, a bill that updates the state’s mining excise tax. Created in 1981, the existing law has sat dormant due to a lack of mining, but it will be triggered if lithium mining becomes viable in Maine. On March 19, the Taxation Committee voted unanimously to increase the mining excise tax rate. They also voted to increase the percentage of revenues that go into the state’s mining excise tax trust fund. The principle of this constitutionally protected fund can only be expended with two-thirds votes in the legislature, but any investment income is available for land conservation activities. It will likely take some time to provide significant funds, but this could become a predictable source for funding conservation activities in the future. MCHT will continue to work on this bill as it moves through the legislative process. 

LMF Trust Fund

Finally, MCHT and partners were successful last session in enacting LD 1969, a bill to create the LMF Trust Fund. This initiative moved all existing LMF dollars into a separate account where investment income remains with the LMF program. In the seven months since LD 1969 was implemented, the LMF account has increased by $758,000. This number is likely to exceed one million dollars in a few months, allowing the program to invest in many more conservation projects.