January 15, 2013

LePage: Borrow $100 million for prison project

State officials say the project, which would demolish most of the prison's buildings, is needed because of badly outdated facilities.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

This file photo shows the security building at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Most of the Maine Correctional Center in Windham would be rebuilt if the LePage administration's proposed budget for the next two-year cycle – which asks for $100 million in bonding to pay for the project – goes through.

Jack Milton / Staff Photographer

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It would be built on state-owned land along Mallison Falls Road, between Route 202 and River Road.

Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, the House chair of Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said the proposal surprised him, though he said the facility in Windham is old and renovations could be due.

In a recent, informal meeting with Ponte, Dion said, Ponte told legislators that state officials were considering a bond for construction but it was a tentative plan.

"To me, saying you're going to build a $100 million facility and actually doing it is a multistep process," Dion said.

Mackie said Ponte discussed the plan for a 1,400-bed Windham facility with corrections employees in a question-and-answer session several months ago.

"We know he's wanted to build a 1,400-bed prison; what we didn't know is where the hell he was going to find the money to pay for it," he said. "I don't really think the citizens of Maine are going to be willing to dole out I-don't-know-how-many millions of dollars on a new prison."

Dion said the facility is old and could use renovations, but it will take committee work and "a lot of meetings" to pass the plan to rebuild most of it.

"We have to explain that to the people, and prisons and jails are never popular," Dion said. "When you choose that, you're choosing it at the expense of something else."

LePage's proposal asks for the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority to be given permission to issue as much as $100 million in bonds for the costs.

The authority can issue bonding after a majority vote of the authority's board and a two-thirds vote in each house of the Legislature. Voter approval is not needed.

In a prepared statement Monday, House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said legislative leaders were "reviewing the details of (LePage's) correctional proposal now" and "Democrats are hopeful that we can find common ground with the governor and Republicans on making needed economic investments in our roads, bridges, and our state buildings."

State House Bureau Writer Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

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