AUGUSTA, Maine — Majority leaders in the Maine Senate said they are contemplating legislation that would prohibit a governor from delaying the sale of government bonds authorized by statewide referenda.
Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, and Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said the refusal of Republican Gov. Paul LePage to release for sale state-backed bonds that were approved by voters is holding back the state’s economy.
“After all, this isn’t a state dictatorship,” Jackson said during an editorial board meeting with the Sun Journal earlier this week.
Alfond and Goodall also said important state infrastructure including highways, roads and bridges were being allowed to deteriorate and will ultimately cost the state more in the future to repair.
“We need to make sure we make those critical investments,” Goodall said. He said the budget Democrats would prepare for the next two-year budget cycle would include amounts for debt service on those bonds.
Neither Goodall nor Alfond offered details on what their legislation would do but Goodall said they believed there would be bipartisan support for the measure.
“The governor is choosing to go against the will of the people, the will of the Legislature by not issuing bonds and not putting his signature on it,” Goodall said. “We will be looking at, with our Republican colleagues because they have bills in as well, at changing that authority so those investments are immediately on the street and somebody like the governor cannot hold them hostage.”
LePage has said he is holding out on authorizing the sale of state bonds — including about $65.5 million approved by voters last November and meant for road and bridge repairs because the state has too much debt.
His administration has frequently pointed to the more than $500 million in back payments the state owes to Maine hospitals for MaineCare services they provide.
Alfond said they need to be careful in the way they change the law to ensure they have enough support to override any potential veto from LePage.
“The fact of the matter is he is really vetoing the will of the people. We expect to have hard decisions made . . . but when the people have spoken that’s just against the tradition of the state of Maine regardless of any legal argument,” Goodall said.
A budget proposal outlined by State Finance Commissioner H. Sawin Millett Jr. Friday hinted that LePage may release portions of the bonds over the next two budget cycles.
That news was welcomed by Democrats but they said they need more specifics and also question what the governor would request in return.