August 23, 2013

Committee's OK moves Maine bond deal closer to statewide vote

The package includes almost $150 million for transportation and higher education projects.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — A near-$150 million borrowing package was endorsed by a Maine legislative committee Thursday, a mostly choreographed move clearing its path to the November ballot.

click image to enlarge

Southern Maine Community College graduated its largest class ever in 2012. The $31 million included in the proposed bond would be split between the University of Maine System and the community college system.

2012 Press Herald File Photo / Shawn Patrick Ouellette

After wrangling over bonds for the past year, legislative leaders and Gov. Paul LePage reached agreement on a $149.5 million package, $100 million of which will go toward transportation, making the committee vote little more than a formality.

The Legislature's Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee unanimously endorsed the five-bill package Thursday afternoon, sending them to the full Legislature, which is set to vote on the proposed package next Thursday. The bonds would go to voters after passage.

"All of us on this committee feel very pleased that we were able to strike a deal," said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, House chair of the committee.

Of the $100 million for transportation, $44 million would go toward improving roads, while another $27 million would go toward rehabilitating bridges.

Much of the rest of the transportation money would go to waterfront development in Portland.

The International Marine Terminal, operated by the Maine Port Authority, is set to see $9 million in construction and infrastructure improvement under the package.

Improvements at the terminal are expected to reduce the cost of transporting goods to and from the terminal, which Eimskip, an Icelandic shipping company, made the North American hub for its trans-Atlantic container service earlier this year.

Another $4 million would go toward both the dredging of Portland Harbor to expand shipping capacity and infrastructure upgrades at the Portland Fish Exchange, which houses fish and seafood auctions.

Higher education institutions would get $35.5 million, $31 million of which would be evenly split between the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System.

Another $14 million would go toward improving Maine's armories.

The bond package must pass the Legislature by a two-thirds margin in both the House and Senate. After that, it would be put on Maine's statewide November ballot.

Bonds have been long a main bone of contention between legislative Democrats and the governor.

Before he signed a plan in June that called for borrowing to pay the state's $183.5 million share of debt to hospitals, repaying it with revenue from a soon-to-be negotiated wholesale liquor contract, Democrats criticized him for not issuing more than $100 million in outstanding bonds that had already been approved by voters.

But LePage countered by saying that the state needed to pay down hospital debt before borrowing more money. In a news release Thursday, LePage's office said it expected to sell the liquor revenue bond next week.

In another statement Thursday, LePage said the committee's endorsement of the package "puts Maine further down the road toward prosperity and increased productivity."

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

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