AUGUSTA — The prospect of a state bond package re-emerged Monday as lawmakers took testimony on six bills that propose to ask voters for permission to borrow money.

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee began a series of monthly public hearings on various bills — there are nearly 30 — to provide funding for research and development, wastewater and drinking water projects, emergency helicopter services and other items.

Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, and House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, sponsored similar bills to borrow money that would be disbursed to businesses, the University of Maine System and nonprofits to help advance technology. The money would support biotechnology, composites, environmental science and forest science, information technology, marine research and precision manufacturing, Rector said.

“We know where our expertise and strengths lie,” he said. “It is critical we continue the sustained investment over time.”

Rector’s bill, L.D. 225, calls for a $50 million investment. Cain’s bill, L.D. 409, is for $100 million. Other bills considered Monday call for borrowing money for the university and community college systems, including $7.2 million for an animal and plant diagnostic laboratory at the University of Maine.

It’s uncertain whether there will be a bond package for the Legislature to consider next year. A spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage said the administration continues to have concerns about the state’s ability to borrow money in the current economic climate. But that doesn’t mean bonds have been ruled out, said Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary.

“We’re exploring what a bond package might look like,” she said. “He’s simply asking, can we afford it?”

Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, the Appropriations Committee’s Senate chairman, said the committee is holding hearings now to try to spread out the work before the legislative session begins in January.

“I don’t know if there will be a (bond) package,” he said. “If there is one, I think we have to use a filter of looking at proposals that really put people to work and that have assets that have a longer life than the bond, and are ready to act on quickly.”

General obligation bonds, which are the kind being discussed by the committee, are paid back by the state in 10 years.

During the hearing, several people testified in support of various bond bills, including Richard Pattenaude, chancellor of the University of Maine System, and Julie-Marie Bickford, executive director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association. Bickford spoke in support of the bill calling for the improved animal and plant diagnostic facility.

Pattenaude said bond money proposed in L.D. 777 and L.D. 874 would be used at several university campuses to support science, technology, engineering and math programs.

“The investments would improve laboratory facilities in a wide variety of disciplines such as botany, soil science, biology, chemistry, forestry, zoology, marine biology, physics and more,” he said.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, who sponsored L.D. 874, a $28 million bond for higher education projects, said low interest rates make it a good time to borrow.

“While sentiment around the country may be ‘no more spending beyond the nuts and bolts of government,’ it is our job as lawmakers to look beyond the rhetoric and look at which investments are prudent, timely and best used to stimulate our economy,” he said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]