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Tuesday November 15, 2011 | 06:46 PM

Some high profile Maine-related issues are in the final version of a catch-all 2012 spending bill that includes transportation and agriculture projects and issues. The bill is expected to be passed by the House and Senate before the week is out.

Among them: a provision co-authored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that aims to keep potatoes on the plate as part of the federal school lunch program.

Also in that bill is another Collins co-authored provision allowing trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds back on all of Maine’s interstates. And so is Amtrak funding that keeps the Downeaster route between Portland and Boston chugging down the track.

Collins helped beat back a deep House GOP cut to Amtrak funding overall – and the elimination of allowing federal funding to go to state-supported routes like the Downeaster – in her role as the top Republican on the Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee when the final House-Senate negotiations took place over the transportation part of the overall spending bill.

Also backing the Amtrak funding was Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who said that, “The Downeaster is a critical economic engine in our state with more than a half million passengers this year alone.”

The potato battle was over proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture restrictions on servings of starchy vegetables that threatened to drastically reduce the use of potatoes, a major Maine crop, in federal school lunches and breakfasts. There would have been no potatoes at breakfast and a limited amount of servings at lunchtime.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and allies including GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, led the fight for a provision to keep potatoes on the menu without restrictions.

Collins co-authored the truck weight provision with Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont. It gives Maine and Vermont exemptions for trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds and up to 100,000 the ability to get off the side roads and back on all of Maine’s interstates. Currently, the heavier trucks can only use the Maine Turnpike, and a number of surrounding states already have exemptions. The entire Maine congressional delegation backed the truck weight provision: Snowe and Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Mike Michaud of the 2nd District.


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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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