AUGUSTA – The Legislature’s budget-writing committee came to an agreement Thursday on $95.6 million in state borrowing that may be considered by voters in November but would first have to clear the desk of Gov. Paul LePage.
The proposal is broken into five separate bonds, which Democrats fear could make it easier for LePage to cherry-pick which proposals he will support or reject. The package is weighted heavily toward transportation, with $51 million for transportation-related projects.
More than $41 million in the transportation package would go directly to the Maine Department of Transportation, to address a backlog of bridge and road projects.
Another bond would include $20 million for research and development projects that would be bid through the Maine Technology Institute.
“I think we have struck a reasonable balance between the unquestioned investment needs we face and our ability to afford more borrowing,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, a member of the Appropriations Committee. “These targeted bonds will hopefully give us the most job creation bang for the buck.”
Republicans defended breaking the package into five parts, saying it would make it easier for voters to prioritize which spending they could support. In the past, GOP lawmakers said, voters have had to decide on a single package, even if they haven’t supported some of the proposals.
An education bond totaling $11 million would include $8 million for the University of Maine Animal Health Lab and $3 million for the Maine Community College System.
The fourth bond would provide nearly $8 million for water and sewer projects for wastewater system and clean-water upgrades.
The committee also approved a $5 million bond for the Land for Maine’s Future program to secure deer wintering, hunting and recreational properties for public use.
The proposals are the result of negotiations among lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee. They would need two-thirds support from the House and Senate before going to LePage. With the governor’s signature, the proposals would go to voters for final approval.
The last state bond package, for $49 million, was passed by voters in 2010.
Typically, the governor introduces a bond package that is then reviewed by the Appropriations Committee and adopted by the Legislature. LePage, however, has refused to introduce or discuss a borrowing plan until lawmakers address his proposal to fill an estimated $89 million budget gap in the Department of Health and Human Services.
That clouds the future of the five bonds. Democrats were particularly concerned that breaking the borrowing package into pieces could make it easier for LePage to reject those he doesn’t like.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said she was worried that the bonds were “set up for failure.”
“We are concerned that the separate vote will set up one or more of the proposals to fail,” said Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York. “If all five bonds pass the Legislature, the Republicans have given the governor a menu of options to reject, rather than a single bipartisan package that was negotiated in good faith that we could all stand behind.”
The governor reiterated this week that he will not support a borrowing proposal until lawmakers settle the DHHS budget.
State House Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: