AUGUSTA, Maine — Now that Maine lawmakers have completed their work on a supplemental state budget, lawmakers’ attention is turning to bonds. And a weekend exchange between the Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers may set the stage for debate to take place in the next week.
In his weekly radio address, Gov. John Baldacci pitched his $79 million job-creation bond package. Baldacci said the proposal currently before the Appropriations Committee would put 2,000 people back to work within the next year and help to protect the jobs of thousands of more workers.
It includes funds for highways, preservation of freight rail service in Aroostook County and other transportation and energy projects.
“I know that among some there is concern about borrowing right now, even for the worthy cause of creating jobs,” said Baldacci, who days earlier signed a bill that closes a $310 million budget gap. “But we cannot sit back and wait for the economy to improve. We must take appropriate action to make it happen.”
In the GOP response, House Minority Leader Josh Tardy of Newport said this is the wrong time for the state to take on more debt.
In addition to Baldacci’s bond proposal, Senate President Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell of Vassalboro, one of five Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, proposed a $99 million bond package.
Tardy said Democrats and Republicans agreed last spring to a $150 million bond package to span the current two-year budget cycle. The first $71 million was approved in November and the rest goes before voters this June and November.
“Even before those new bonds have been issued or given a chance to work, the Democrats are back demanding more,” Tardy said. “You remember the infamous stimulus program of about $800 billion. Imagine if Washington politicians had proposed another $400 billion stimulus a month later, before the first one had a chance to kick in. That’s what is happening in Augusta.”
Tardy said Republicans believe Mainers “cannot be buried deeper and deeper in debt,” which he contended now stands at $11.5 billion.