PORTLAND, Maine — Maine voters on Tuesday approved three bond referendums, rejecting opponents’ claims they would strap the state with too much long-term debt. A fourth bond package bringing the total to $108 million, Question 4, had a narrow lead as votes were tallied late in the night.
Supporters said the four bond issues would create hundreds of jobs at a time when the state is still recovering from the recession.
“Passage of Question 2 represents another prudent investment in Maine’s universities and Maine’s economy. These investments will result in energy efficient campuses and will advance our universities’ effort to develop energy production and manufacturing as viable and sustainable industries. The trustees, presidents, and I thank the voters of Maine for their support,” said University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude.
Critics said the state shouldn’t take on more long-term debts while it faces a looming unfunded liability to the state pension system.
“Maine voters tonight decided that these borrowing questions were worth the investment, but the reality is that we have a public debt nightmare approaching $12 billion,” said Chris Cinquemani of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Portland.
He said the referendum outcomes should “not be used as an excuse by the next governor or Legislature to ignore what needs to be done to reduce Maine’s public debt burden.”
With more than 75 percent of precincts reporting, 59 percent of voters had approved Question 2, more than 58 percent had approved Question 3, Question 4 was leading with 51 percent, and 55 percent approved Question 5.
The approved bonds broke down this way: $26.5 million for an offshore wind energy demonstration site, related manufacturing and campus energy conservation; $47.8 million for highways, railroads and marine facilities; and $10.25 million for clean water projects.
Included in the transportation bond is a deep-water berth for Portland’s Ocean Gateway and preservation of 240 miles of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway track in Aroostook County.
Tony Donovan of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition was ecstatic that Maine voters approved bonds for rail for the first time in years.
“It’s a new investment in a new system. It’s always been roads, roads, roads,” Donovan said. “In Aroostook County, central Maine and western Maine, here’s a chance to look at a new alternative transportation system. It feels real good to us. It’s time to move in a new direction for rail transportation.”
A fourth bond includes $23.75 million for historic properties and redevelopment at the Brunswick Naval Air Station, among other things.
Some of the bonds were set in motion by lawmakers last year, when the state was in the deepest part of the recession. But lawmakers decided last spring that more was needed and added a fourth bond issue for $57.8 million.
Overall, the four bonds would draw nearly $97 million in matching funds.