AUGUSTA, Maine — State lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage will continue their political battle over how much and when Maine should borrow to fix roads and bridges Tuesday as the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee meets for an overview of state government’s fiscal condition.
On Monday, LePage again urged lawmakers to go into a special session and pass a $105 million borrowing package for roads and bridges that could go out to voters this November.
LePage says the voters need to approve the borrowing package by the end of this year so the funds will be available for the construction season that starts in spring 2014.
“Our roads and ports continue to be a focus of economic opportunity that helps create jobs, and while the federal government is sitting on the sidelines regarding transportation funding, now is the time for the state to invest in needed infrastructure improvements,” LePage said in a prepared statement Monday.
LePage says a bill needs to be passed by mid-August in order to meet a looming deadline to send the bond question to voters in November.
He took a partisan jab at leaders in the Legislature’s Democratic majority saying they would be delaying job creation and economic development by delaying a vote on the borrowing package until next June.
LePage’s Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt also urged the Legislature to act.
“We hope the Appropriations Committee can do its work and the full Legislature can vote on our bond in a special session this August,” Bernhardt said. “The few weeks between a special session in August versus September will mean seven months of delay for projects critical to Maine’s economy. It will mean lost jobs in Maine. It will mean missed opportunities for economic development.”
But key Democrats have said even if voters don’t act on a transportation bond referendum until June 2014, work can still begin in the spring. They are urging the state take a measured approach and look closely at how much of a just recently released $104 million borrowing package has been accounted for by various state departments.
The Appropriations Committee was calling in a host of officials and business experts Tuesday in an attempt to review about 30 separate borrowing proposals.
Democrats have also said LePage, who refused to issue bonds that were previously approved by voters in 2010 and 2012, until the Legislature paid off the state’s Medicaid debt to hospitals has quickly changed his tune on borrowing.
In a release issued early Tuesday Democrats in the state Senate said they would proceed with careful deliberation on borrowing.
“The committee will thoroughly vet each bonding investment area in transportation, R&D, education, workforce and water quality,” the statement read. “Through its committee work and in collaboration with state departments and the executive branch, the committee is expected to draft a proposal for bonding time for the Legislature’s vote when it reconvenes in September.”
On the docket for the committee Tuesday were four different experts, including Charles Colgan, a former state economist and economic expert; Ryan Lowe, of the University of Maine System; Dana Connors, executive director of the state chamber of commerce and Marc Cyr, a financial analyst with the state.
The committee was set to meet at 10 a.m.