AUGUSTA — David Bernhardt, Gov. Paul LePage’s pick to lead the Department of Transportation, won unanimous support from a panel of lawmakers Tuesday after being questioned about future funding for the state’s infrastructure.

Two other LePage nominees – Mary Mayhew and Walt Whitcomb – received confirmation from the Senate to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, respectively.

During his hearing, Bernhardt said the administration would oppose raising the gas tax and any new bonding initiatives to raise money.

“We have to leave no stone unturned,” he said, responding to questions from Democrats on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. “We need to be able to tell the people, the department is as efficient and cost-effective as it can be, I believe, before we can go out and ask for more … funding than we already receive.”

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a former co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, congratulated Bernhardt for his commitment to finding efficiencies but said it would not be enough to offset the department’s funding shortfall.

“We’ve probably got a need of about $50 million to fix and repair roads and bridges across the state that everyone agrees are in horrible shape,” he said.

Bernhardt, a 26-year veteran of the Department of Transportation, said the state must re-evaluate its priorities and seek to partner with municipalities to help share the burden of transportation projects. He also said the federal government will have to step in eventually to help states cope with continued transportation funding shortfalls.

“The states cannot take this on by themselves, and what we need to do is get our business practices ready for when something does happen,” he said. “But I’ve got to believe in the next two years, something’s got to happen, something’s got to give.”

Representatives of the Maine Better Transportation Association, the Associated General Contractors of Maine, Pike Industries and the Sargent Corp. spoke in support of Bernhardt’s nomination, which will be scheduled for a vote in the Senate soon.

In Senate votes earlier Tuesday, two more of LePage’s Cabinet choices were confirmed.

Mary Mayhew will serve as commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Walt Whitcomb will lead the Department of Agriculture. Mayhew was confirmed by a 26-8 vote. Whitcomb was approved unanimously.

Several Democrats spoke out against Mayhew’s nomination, calling her unqualified to lead the state’s largest department. Mayhew is a former lobbyist for the Maine Hospital Association. Democrats said she lacks budgetary and managerial skills, as well as social service experience.

“This job is too critical to the lives of Maine people to give to somebody who doesn’t have experience in social services,” said Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Mayhew’s experience is one-dimensional, and I worry that her point of orientation will be the hospitals. It is also vexing that Maine taxpayers will be now paying for her on-the-job training.”

But Republicans and some Democrats spoke on Mayhew’s behalf, vouching for her character and ability.

“She is honest, she is tough and she is smart; she has integrity,” said Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro. “That’s the type of leadership that I want running the Department of Health and Human Services.

 

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

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