May 22, 2018
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Maine Senate stalls rail bond along party lines

By Kevin Miller, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic and Republican lawmakers deadlocked on a proposed $85 million bond package early Thursday morning, opting instead to return Monday in order to give negotiators time to hash out a possible compromise.

Legislative leaders had hoped to wrap up the 2010 session by Wednesday night but agreed to extend it into next week after it became clear that Democrats lacked the votes to pass a bond measure.

The delay kept alive hopes among Aroostook County lawmakers and business leaders that they can secure bond money to prevent the abandonment of the only major railway serving northern Maine.

The $85 million bond package drafted by Democrats contained $17 million to purchase the section of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway tracks running between Millinocket and Madawaska. MMA has threatened to abandon the tracks later this year due to financial problems unless the state or another entity buys the rail line.

Business leaders have said that preserving freight rail into Aroostook County is critical to the economy of the entire region. More than 20 companies – including many of the county’s largest employers – currently move freight on the MMA line.

The bond package also includes money for road construction and maintenance, a new dentist training program, drinking water and waste water infrastructure projects, a deep-water berth in Portland and offshore wind power development.

The House just barely achieved the two-thirds majority needed for passage Wednesday night. But the Senate’s 15 Republicans later blocked passage of the bill, arguing that the state could not afford to take on an additional $85 million in debt less than one year after the Legislature approved a 2-year, $150 million bond package.

The bond measure is one of the only unresolved items left in the 2010 session. Senate Republicans said early Thursday morning that Democrats will have to reduce the size of the bond package.

The Senate will reconvene Monday at 10 a.m. The House plans to convene at 1 p.m.

Meanwhile, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration is meeting today in Bangor with Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and representatives from more than a dozen businesses to discuss the MMA situation.

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