The state treasurer has painted himself into a corner.
Now that he’s running for the U.S. Senate, he’s trying to get out of that corner without a smudge.
When Bruce Poliquin bought a 10-acre plot of land in Georgetown in 2001 it came with a deed restriction that severely limits tree harvesting. According to the deed, “Trees may be thinned only for the purposes of view, and the environment shall be completely protected at all times from the excessive cutting of trees.”
In 2004, he enrolled his property in the state Tree Growth Tax Law program, which provides generous tax breaks for forested land used for commercial harvesting. In exchange, he submitted a sworn statement containing a sustainable tree management plan.
This sweet deal has saved Poliquin thousands of dollars a year in property taxes on the acreage that was most recently appraised at $943,000. Under the terms of his “commercial” plan, he pays about $30 a year.
The obvious conflict between Poliquin’s deed restriction and the goals of the Tree Growth program has brought widespread criticism. Even a member of his own party, Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said the treasurer’s property arrangement “... doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of the Tree Growth program.”
Poliquin has refused to release the details of his forest management plan to prove he was following the spirit of the program, and under the terms of the agreement with the Maine Forest Service, it will remain confidential.
Just this week, the treasurer applied to the Georgetown Board of Selectmen to transfer his land from the Maine Tree Growth Tax program to the state’s Open Space program, which could still provide up to a 95 percent reduction on the assessed value, depending on the judgment of the local assessor.
But Poliquin’s use of the Tree Growth tax break on his property is only one example of his ethical lapses.
A recent investigation by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices found that the treasurer did not adequately disclose his business income as required by state law.
As a result, the Maine House of Representatives recently voted to have the state’s high court determine whether Poliquin could remain treasurer, given that his ownership of Dirigo Holdings LLC appears to violate the section of the state Constitution that prohibits the treasurer from engaging in commerce while in office.
Dirigo Holdings LLC is a real estate business that runs the Popham Woods Condominiums in Phippsburg.
Poliquin saved himself thousands of dollars in property taxes with his misuse of the Tree Growth program at the expense of his Georgetown neighbors. He also failed to reveal all of his earnings after he was elected treasurer by the Legislature.
Now, after little more than a year as state treasurer, Poliquin would like to become one of Maine’s U.S. senators. But his ethical lapses and deceptions will haunt him in his search for higher office.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.