Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld yesterday proposed a selling as much as $300 million in general obligation bonds to buy public lands and upgrade existing tracts of state land.
"This bill is intended to ensure that 100 years from now, our descendants will know the same natural beauty we are so fortunate to enjoy," Weld said at a press conference.
Statehouse sources said, however, that the measure could face opposition from the Democratic majority, because of the governor's recent plea to cut spending in other areas of the budget. The legislature has ultimate approval authority over new GO issues.
If approved, the measure would mark the single largest state bond authorization solely for land use.
The proposal has four major components: increasing the partnership between private and public entities, bolstering open space protection programs, repairing infrastructure associated with state-owned facilities, and supporting activities for the sound use of open land.
"It is necessary to always search for better means to foster and protect our natural resources,' said Lieut. Gov. A. Paul Celluci. "We have developed a new initiative, the Commonwealth Land Conservation Trust, which will enable nonprofit organizations and cities and towns to become more involved in open space protection."
The governor's plan would allow as much as $50 million of the bond authorization to be used to establish the trust fund.
"For the most part, al of these bonds will be general obligations of the state," said Janice Tatarka, assistant secretary of the state Environmental Affairs Department. "For the trust fund, the state will sell the bonds, but private groups will operate those lands' facilities."
The legislation would allow as much as $78 million to be spent on infrastructure repairs to state-owned facilities. About $20 million of the allocation would be used to facilitate compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Tatarka said.
Weld's plan also calls for $10 million for state watershed protection programs and $10 million for certain open space grant programs.
He also called for $10 million to restore statewide areas for animals whose habitats have been destroyed or altered by humans.
In 1987, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis proposed a similar but smaller package of bonding for land use purposes. The legislature increased Dukakis' proposal to more than $500 million, but only a fraction of those bonds were ever sold.
Tatarka said about $200 million is still available in authorizations from the 1987 measure. However, many of those "pet projects thrown into the legislation" have been finance in other ways or abandoned.
Tatarka said that part of the problem with the 1987 law is that the state was hesitant to spend money on environmental projects when its overall finances were so poor. A few lighthouse refurbishings and pier and wharf repairs were some of the projects put on the back burner, she said.
"Technically, the state is required to go back for authorization every five years for these type of projects," Tatarka said. "But, realistically we have set up a five- to seven-year schedule of projects to accomplish."
The state is rate A-plus by Fitch Investors Service and Standard & Poor's Corp. and A by Moody's Investors Service.