Baldacci seeks $306M bond pact

Posted March 04, 2009, at 1:52 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Billing it as an investment strategy to complement the federal economic stimulus package, Gov. John Baldacci proposed a $306 million state borrowing package Wednesday that would be submitted to voters in two elections and spent over three years.

“Our economy depends on investing in our people and giving them the tools they need in order to be successful,” Baldacci said at a State House news conference.

The bond package would finance a variety of projects, including highway improvements, environmental protection, energy conservation, and state university building renovations.

The bulk of the new borrowing — about $266 million — would be put out for referendum in November. About $40 million would go to voters in June 2010.

The Democratic governor, however, won’t have the final word. Committee hearings in the Democrat-dominated Legislature get under way next week on a variety of borrowing plans. In all, the pending bond proposals exceed $1 billion, according to the Appropriations Committee staff.

Acknowledging other proposals, Baldacci said he had conferred with legislative leaders already and was optimistic about winning bipartisan support quickly for a final package.

“While I know that there will be competing interests as this package is debated, I believe that Maine has shown that its political leaders can put aside partisan differences and work together to put the best interest of our people first,” Baldacci said in a statement.

Republican legislative leaders said they were wary about the Democratic governor’s borrowing proposal.

“We must keep our borrowing to a responsible level that protects the interests of Maine’s taxpayers in future years and ensures that we don’t grow our debt faster than our ability to pay it off,” Rep. Josh Tardy of Newport and Sen. Kevin Raye of Perry said in a joint statement. “Maine’s borrowing decisions must be guided by common sense.”

Last June, Maine voters approved a $29.7 million bond package to pay for improvements to roads, bridges, dams, landfills and other public facilities. It was the final part of a borrowing package worth up to $295 million that the Legislature voted in 2007 to send to voters in three separate pieces. The previous two portions were approved.

In November, a $3.4 million bond issue to support drinking water programs and the construction of wastewater treatment facilities narrowly passed.

At the end of 2008, Maine’s actual and authorized tax-supported debt totaled nearly $920.7 million, according to State Treasurer David Lemoine. Almost half of that amount — $453.3 million — stemmed from general obligation bonds, a form of debt secured by the state’s full faith, credit and taxing power.

Maine’s tax-supported debt per capita at $618 at the end of 2008, compared to a national median of $889, Lemoine said. Its tax-supported debt as a percentage of personal income was 1.9 percent compared to a national median of 2.6 percent.

How the Governor would spend your money

$127.8 million for roads, bridges, rail, ferries and aviation.

$52 million in building improvements for the state’s public universities, community colleges and Maine Maritime Academy, to include energy upgrades.

$15.5 million for energy conservation, including funding to help develop offshore wind power.

$67.5 million for research and development grants and economic development.

$43.4 million for Land for Maine’s Future acquisitions, working waterfronts, clean water and environmental protection.

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