April 26, 2012

Spending battle puts state bonding at risk

Projects to fix roads, expand colleges and more may not be funded – and related jobs lost – if LePage doesn't get his DHHS cuts

By STEVE MISTLER State House Bureau

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Martin's Point Bridge: Replacement cited by transit experts as a top priority

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Cummings Road in South Portland: Estimated cost of reconstruction: $1.7 million

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LePage has cited training for such trades as a priority of his administration. In September, the governor told a group of employers in Augusta that Maine has plenty of jobs, just not enough skilled workers to fill them.

Portland's legislative delegation is pushing proposals that it says would bolster the economic vitality of the city and the region, including funding to hasten the development of a multi-modal transportation center at Thompson's Point and money to advance Mayor Michael Brennan's proposal to encourage interaction between local research and higher-education institutions.

Such projects may be viewed as Portland-centric, but advocates say another -- an estimated $5 million bond for the Portland Fish Exchange -- could have far-reaching economic effects.

Bert Jongerden, general manager of the exchange, said the proposal includes about $1 million for a new roof on the building and other weather-efficiency upgrades. More important, Jongerden said, is an estimated $4 million to expand permit banking to allow bigger fishing trawlers to fish for extended periods. Jongerden said the permit program is a "life-ring" for the struggling groundfish industry.

Alfond agreed. He said the Legislature should take advantage of record-low interest rates and send a strong borrowing package to voters.

That philosophy runs counter to LePage's push for debt reduction. Last year, the GOP majority in the Legislature went along with the administration's no-borrowing directive.

This year, an election year, Republican lawmakers have expressed willingness to negotiate a modest borrowing package. The GOP says its decision to forgo bonding last year has put the state in a better borrowing position.

Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, said the package would likely focus on the traditional bonding needs: transportation, infrastructure and land-banking programs.

Democrats say it's in Republicans' self-interest to approve borrowing. Subpar roads and infrastructure, they argue, could jeopardize Republicans' legislative majority when voters go to the polls in November.

Republicans are also sensitive to the ramifications of removing thousands of Mainers from MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, as proposed in LePage's DHHS budget.

In recent weeks, the GOP has signaled its willingness to craft a bipartisan compromise on the DHHS plan. However, consensus may prove elusive if LePage demands adherence to his original budget plan, which Democrats universally oppose.

Rosen said he and other Republicans still support a "reasonable, responsible" borrowing package. He declined to read into LePage's comments.

State House Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:


Twitter: stevemistler


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Additional Photos

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Bar Mills Bridge over Saco River: Estimated cost of replacement: $7.8 million

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Portland Fish Exchange: Estimated cost of repairs, efficiency upgrades and expansion to increase fish landings: $5 million

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