August 15, 2013

Breakthrough close on bonding issues, LePage says

He reports progress in talks with Democrats on borrowing for infrastructure projects, which would be presented to voters.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday that there may be a breakthrough in the stalemate between his administration and Democratic legislative leaders over a state borrowing plan for road and bridge projects and improvements at higher education campuses.

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Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, right, and House speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, speak to reporters at the State House in Augusta. Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday that there may be a breakthrough in the stalemate between his administration and Democratic legislative leaders over a state borrowing plan for road and bridge projects and improvements at higher education campuses.

The Associated Press File Photo

Projects in line for funding include a proposal to extend rail service to the International Marine Terminal on Portland's waterfront to accommodate a new shipping company. Money also could be used to expand facilities at community colleges, allowing many more students to attend.

The governor, who met with Democratic leaders early Wednesday morning in the office of Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said he told leaders that he would support a bond package of no more than $150 million and that the plan must go to voters by November.

Democratic leaders issued a brief statement that confirmed the meeting without indicating that an agreement has been reached, a sign that negotiations are likely continuing.

"We look forward to finding a resolution that can meet the needs of the people of Maine," said the statement from House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick.

Lawmakers typically negotiate bond proposals as they do the state's two-year budget, offering little comment until a deal is reached.

However, LePage provided a rough outline of a bond proposal that he would support during a brief interview with reporters Wednesday. He also indicated that his meeting with Democratic leaders was productive, signaling a breakthrough in negotiations that have been politically charged over the past week.

"They're working on it now," LePage told reporters Wednesday morning. "They're working on a package."

LePage has been pushing his proposal for a $100 million transportation bond to fund roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects right away. Democrats say they support the proposal but want to make sure that bonding for higher education infrastructure, conservation projects and research and development is also included.

The power dynamic in Augusta ensures that both sides will get some of what they want. Although Democrats control the Legislature, they need Republican votes to achieve the two-thirds majority required to send bond proposals to voters, the final arbiter in state borrowing proposals.

Over the past week, a political dust-up has centered on the timing of the transportation bond. LePage insists that the proposal needs to be approved by November so that the Maine Department of Transportation has the flexibility to fund priority projects such as one to extend rail service on the Portland waterfront and secure investment there by Eimskip, an Icelandic shipping company.

LePage said Wednesday that the next round of bonds must support transportation to receive his approval, but he would not say whether it has to include all of his original proposal or most of it.

The governor also indicated that non-transportation borrowing should target infrastructure needs. That may include water and sewer projects, or capital upgrades and additions to the community college and University of Maine systems.

It may also mean that money for land conservation, such as the Land for Maine's Future, and research and development programs could receive little support from Republicans and the governor.

Many supporters of the latter proposals are strongly aligned with Democrats, meaning Democratic leaders will be under pressure to include borrowing for those causes. However, it will be difficult for Democrats to meet those demands because a number of Republican lawmakers are philosophically opposed to any increase in the state's debt load.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Transportation bond

Are you likely to support a $100 million state transportation bond if it’s on the November ballot?

Yes

No

View Results