On April 20, Governor Janet Mills signed LD 1995, a supplemental appropriation measure broadly supported by an overwhelming majority of legislators from both parties. The final bill includes many measures that support initiatives within the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) related to the work of Maine’s land trust community.
In June of 2021, Maine policymakers enacted the state’s current biennial budget, which runs from July of 2021 through June of 2023. This budget was based on revenue projections made last year. However, updated revenue forecasts earlier this year indicated a significant increase in likely tax revenues above last year’s projections. The Governor and lawmakers agreed to send a significant portion of these unanticipated funds back to Maine citizens in the form of tax rebates. At the same time, they also agreed to invest a portion of the new revenues to address a variety of state needs, including programs within DACF.
Here are some of the highlights from LD 1995 related to the work of land trusts:
- Land for Maine’s Future (LMF): the bill approves funding two limited-period positions through June 2025. The LMF Board approved these two positions last year with the goal of paying for them with donated funds they had on hand. LD 1995 proposes using General Fund dollars, a longer-term solution. LMF is in the process of hiring the two positions. Both will play a critical role supporting the program’s efforts over the next few years to effectively invest the $40 million appropriated in 2021.
- PFAs: the legislation includes many provisions seeking to address growing concerns related to PFAs contamination on Maine’s farmland. In addition to the establishment of new positions within the Bureau of Agriculture focused on this problem, LD 1995 sets aside $60 million to deal with clean up, abatement, and mitigations efforts facing Maine farmers across the state.
- Municipal Planning: policymakers agreed to add new positions to the state’s municipal planning program. Once housed at the State Planning Office, this program has lacked capacity over the past decade, especially in recent years as more municipalities look to the state for help with comprehensive planning-related activities.
- State Parks: the measure restores 18 seasonal assistant park ranger positions at State Parks throughout Maine. The previous administration eliminated these positions by replacing them with contractors, a move that was not implemented to save money but to improve service. This change proved to be ineffective. Restoring these positions should enhance visitor experience at Maine’s State Parks.
- Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): a few years ago, the US Congress increased and made LWCF investments more consistent. As a result, each year Maine is now receiving significant LWCF funds to support state and local government projects related to land acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation facilities. LD 1995 creates a new position within the Bureau of Parks and Lands to manage and monitor these LWCF grants.
These investments will complement the work of Maine’s land trusts across the state, and will set the stage for conservation gains in the coming years and decades.