SKOWHEGAN, Maine — A state legislator says Gov. Paul LePage is holding Skowhegan hostage through his refusal to release voter-approved bond money.
Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, sent a letter to LePage on July 12, urging him to issue a $3.5 million bond as part of the revitalization effort for downtown Skowhegan. The Communities for Maine’s Future bond, which was passed by the Legislature in 2009, was approved by voters in 2010.
“The governor is ignoring the will of the people and holding our local economy hostage,” McCabe said in a statement Friday. “These shovel-ready projects put money into the hands of local contractors and will help employ people in our area.”
The Communities for Maine’s Future program funds are awarded on a competitive basis and require applying towns to provide a 100 percent match for the project, according to McCabe.
“At the time of your unexpected announcement to halt the voter-approved bond authorizations, the town was about to put the construction contract out to bid,” McCabe said in his letter to LePage. “The project is now on indefinite hold and Skowhegan is unable to move forward.
“Delaying this project further will only increase its cost and delay the creation of needed jobs,” continued McCabe.
In a handwritten letter responding to McCabe’s request, LePage said he’s halting the bonds in order to better Maine’s financial position.
“I am working toward keeping and possibly elevating our credit rating. We have been warned that unless we take steps to pay our bills, we will likely lose our current rating, which is less than stellar,” LePage said in the letter, dated July 14. “As soon as fiscally prudent, we will sell the bonds. The town can sell bonds to complete the project and the state could provide the funds at some later time.”
McCabe said LePage’s solution was unacceptable.
“He’s asking the taxpayers of Skowhegan to float the state a loan for a commitment the state has already made with no timeline to pay us back,” he said.
McCabe said the town of Skowhegan signed contracts with the Department of Economic and Community Development in 2010, and began the renovation process of the downtown area. The town spent nearly $40,000 and has entered into contracts and agreements to secure funding for its portion of the project.
Other towns — such as Bath, Belfast, Dover-Foxcroft, Eastport, Livermore Falls, Monmouth, Norway, Rockland, Unity and Winthrop — have been denied funds to support job creation through grants, he said.
“It is senseless choices like these that have put Maine’s economy in a backslide,” said McCabe. “The small businesses and middle class families in Skowhegan and towns like ours across the state are counting on their Main Streets. We should be supporting our local economies, not stunting them.”
Adrienne Bennett, press secretary for LePage, reiterated LePage’s stance on lowering the state’s debt.
“The governor believes that in dealing with the state’s financial situation, we must prioritize our spending,” Bennett said Friday. “He recognizes that this might create a hardship for projects that may be worthwhile. He encourages towns to pursue these projects without debt to the Maine taxpayer.”