The 124th Legislature cleared its last potential hurdle Monday and mustered two-thirds support in both houses for a bond package that will go before voters in June.

The $57.8 million compromise was less than the $85 million Democrats were seeking, but retains core elements of the original proposal that will, with voter approval, make money available for key infrastructure investments in the transportation and energy sectors.

It also still contains a $5 million one-time payment to start a dental school in Maine, which would ease the state’s dentist shortage and provide access to affordable care in underserved areas.

A key component of the package is $17 million for the preservation of a 240-mile stretch of track belonging to the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway that would have been abandoned, stranding 22 northern Maine businesses.

The bond is the first step in creating a public/private partnership that could attract federal support to keep cargo moving on the rails and not burden the state’s highways.

Portland’s deep-water berth at Ocean Gateway also remained in the package, although the final amount is $500,000 less that the project’s proposed $7 million price.

The voters will now decide if they are willing to borrow even this much, considering the lingering effects of the recession.

But whatever their decision, lawmakers from both parties deserve credit for their work over the last two years to reach compromises like this one during what have been tough economic conditions.


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