AUGUSTA – Lawmakers agreed in a series of votes Thursday to send a $637 million, two-year highway budget to Gov. Paul LePage for approval.

The plan, which had a unanimous endorsement from the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, would fund the paving of 1,200 miles of road over the next two years, eliminate 66 vacant positions in the Department of Transportation and the Secretary of State’s Office and end gas tax indexing in 2012.

Lawmakers from both parties urged passage of the budget, but said the state is not doing enough for its infrastructure.

“I’m going to vote for this budget, but I’m going to need to hold my nose in order to do it,” said Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley.

He said he was disappointed that LePage’s initial proposal to send $20 million from the general fund to the transportation budget was halved in a subsequent blueprint and then reduced further by legislators.

“Some would argue that we need to raise taxes to fund roads. I’ll argue that Maine people pay more than they should now in taxes,” he said. “The problem isn’t taxes aren’t high enough, the problem is safe roads just aren’t a priority.”

Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells, the Senate chair of the Transportation Committee, said maintaining roads and bridges is critical to economic development.

“(Companies) look to us, the Legislature, to maintain our infrastructure so they can operate their businesses,” he said during the floor debate. “Let’s draw the priorities where they should be, that’s dedicating additional funding for our infrastructure.”

LePage’s strong stance opposing any borrowing left lawmakers with limited resources to make improvements. Democrats said the combination of eliminating indexing of the gas tax and declining to bond would have consequences.

“I know it’s a tax that many people complain about, but it does provide an ample source of revenue for the state,” Rep. Ed Mazurek, D-Rockland, said of the gas tax. “If you want to have good roads, you’re going to have to pay for them.”

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

[email protected]