AUGUSTA, Maine — As Maine lawmakers worked toward adjournment, five bond issues adding up to $95.7 million won final passage.
The House and Senate late Wednesday gave two-thirds majority votes of approval to each of the proposed bonds, clearing the way to send them to voters in November.
The largest, $51.5 million, is for highways, bridges, ports and other transportation projects. Lawmakers also approved a $20 million bond for research and development in technology-intensive industrial sectors; an $11.3 million bond for public higher education and $7.9 million for wastewater purification and drinking water systems.
The smallest bond issue, $5 million, is to ensure public access to forests, shores and other open spaces through easements and purchases.
With Republican warnings against amassing more debt, lawmakers last year skipped sending a bond package to voters despite Democratic pressure for bonds to spur economic development and create jobs. Opposition softened during the past year and the bond package eased through the House and Senate on Wednesday with minimal opposition.
Minority Democrats pointed to state fiscal office figures showing that debt service payments from 2013 to 2015 will decline by nearly $30 million, lowering the state’s payments on debt and increasing the capacity to borrow.
“It’s clear we can afford to invest in a jobs bond,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston, the lead House Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
“This is very important to create Maine jobs, which we need right now,” Sen. Christopher Johnson, D-Somerville., said before a preliminary 33-2 Senate vote for the transportation bonds.
Republican Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, said he supports the projects that the bonds would cover but cannot vote for more borrowing while the state continues to owe Maine hospitals millions of dollars in unpaid Medicaid obligations.
“I can’t vote to take on more debt when we can’t take care of the debt we have,” Thomas said.