AUGUSTA – The massive federal spending bill scrapped by the Senate on Thursday will affect education, transportation and other projects in Maine to varying degrees.

The omnibus measure would have authorized government spending for fiscal year 2011. Conservatives criticized the bill because of the $8.3 billion in earmarks it contained — pet projects added by individual lawmakers. Senate leaders abandoned the bill after determining it lacked sufficient support for approval.

Funding earmarked for Maine projects included $17.2 million to modernize the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, $10 million for deep-water offshore wind research at the University of Maine, and several other initiatives.

The bill also would have extended a pilot program allowing trucks weighing as much as 100,000 pounds to travel on Interstate 95 north of Augusta.

Habib Dagher, a professor at UMaine who is pioneering deep-water wind power research, said the $10 million was a continuation of funding from a competitive grant won by the university. The loss will affect the university’s research, as well as the 35 businesses that are working on the technology as part of a consortium, he said.

“This funding would have been to continue the efforts in being the first state in the U.S. to deploy a floating offshore wind turbine off of its coast,” he said. “We’re competing internationally, with China and with the European countries, to get leadership in technology, which eventually means jobs. . . . Without these investments, certainly in Maine, but the whole country, we’ll fall behind.”

Dagher said the program was also promised $20 million from the U.S. Department of Energy budget after Secretary of Energy Steven Chu visited Maine. That funding also is contingent on Congress approving a new budget.

How rapidly the project continues will depend on what happens next in Washington, Dagher said.

“I’m optimistic that, with the help of (U.S. Sen. Susan Collins) and her commitment to the program, that this will happen, that we’ll be able to recover (the money) and continue the program,” he said.

Collins serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and strongly supports Dagher’s research.

But Collins and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, both Republicans, pledged with their GOP colleagues in the Senate not to request earmarks over the next two years, making it difficult for them to direct federal money to Maine projects.

Congressional negotiators turned their attention Friday to devising a stopgap measure to fund the government’s day-to-day operations through February.

The House passed a measure to fund the government through Tuesday — so that lawmakers could have a weekend at home with their families but then return to Washington for wrap-up votes in the days before Christmas. That would give House and Senate negotiators time to come up with a fresh spending bill to fund the government through early next year.

Other Maine projects that stand to lose funding are expected to move along anyway.

James Ortiz, president of Southern Maine Community College, said the loss of funding wouldn’t kill new educational programs at the school, but would slow them. One program would be a partnership between SMCC and the University of Maine School of Engineering to train workers in advanced composites.

“The state Legislature has provided support for that, so we will be moving ahead, but what was proposed (federally) and was led by Senator Collins was to provide equipment that would allow us to move rapidly into development of this engineering program,” he said. “So we are going to go ahead with it, but not at the pace we had hoped.”

Mark Latti, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, said the loss of $3 million for capital improvements on the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway in northern Maine was blunted by a large grant awarded earlier this year.

“Ultimately, we received $10.5 million,” Latti said. “There’s close to $18 million worth of capital improvements that need to be made to the track, but over a period of years. So with the (grant) funding, once the sale becomes final, we’ll be able to start these revitalization repairs and then seek additional funding in the upcoming years.”

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that seeks to eliminate wasteful public spending, said the omnibus measure “collapsed under its own weight.”

The bill had 6,721 earmarks worth $8.3 billion, he said.

“Eliminating $8 billion worth of earmarks doesn’t save you $8 billion, but it does save you something,” he said. “We would be better served by having a merit-based, competitive system for allocating those exact same dollars because we would have a better allocation and would be better meeting the nation’s real priorities.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this story.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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