BANGOR, Maine — With about 75 percent of precincts reported at 1 a.m. Tuesday, Mainers gave their state the go-ahead to borrow about $64.5 million for road and bridge repairs, conservation and water treatment. Another $11.3 million higher education bond was still up in the air.
With precinct results coming in at a steady rate, Mainers heavily favored three of the four bond questions on the ballot. The only bond issue behind in votes was Question 2, an $11.3 million bond to build a diagnostic facility, with favorable votes lagging behind by about 5,000.
Question 4 has the highest price tag of the four bond initiatives and brought about some of the most vocal support. It also saw the most support at the polls as of 1 a.m. — winning about 72 percent of the vote.
Most of the Question 4 money — $41 million of the $51.5 million — would go toward the repair and reconstruction of highways and bridges deemed vital to business and public safety. The remainder would go to port facilities, transit buses, rail services and airports.
“Maine people have historically supported transportation bonds and given the shape of some of our roads and bridges,” said Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association. “It seems clear that voters know there is more work to be done.”
Question 2 asked voters whether they supported borrowing $11.3 million — $7.8 million of which would go to the University of Maine System for an animal and plant diagnostic facility at the University of Maine. The rest would go toward infrastructure projects for the Maine Community College System and Maine Maritime Academy.
In 2005, voters turned down a $9 million bond for building renovations at UMS campuses. It was just the second time since 2001 that Mainers rejected a bond initiative.
Question 3 — which was ahead 61 percent to 39 percent — would allow the state to issue up to $5 million to fund the Land for Maine’s Future program, which focuses on land conservation, farm preservation and working waterfronts.
“Tonight’s vote reaffirms Mainers’ commitment to investing in our natural resource based economy …,” said Tom Abello of the Nature Conservancy in Maine, who issued a statement shortly after 10:30 p.m. “Voters have shown that they value Land for Maine’s Future’s role in conserving working lands and popular recreational areas throughout Maine. This is a much needed shot in the arm for conservation.”
“Yes” votes on Question 5 led 63 percent to 37 percent in the state’s vote count. That bond initiative would allow the state to borrow $8 million for drinking water and wastewater treatment programs. A total of $3.6 million will go into the state’s safe drinking water revolving loan fund, which is administered to eligible public water systems by the Maine Bond Bank and Department of Health and Human Services.
The bonds went on the ballot without Gov. Paul LePage’s signature, and the ones that pass aren’t likely to be sold at market in the near future. The governor announced early in the summer that he planned to withhold the sale of bonds until the state’s fiscal situation looks brighter.
It’s not uncommon for a governor to hold onto bonds after voter approval, according to Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for the governor.
“Now is not the most appropriate time to be borrowing more money,” Bennett said Monday. “We’re on the brink of a cliff nationally.”
Maine faces much fiscal uncertainty in coming years, Bennett said, citing looming federal sequestration cuts, the state’s $460 million debt to hospitals, and $40 million in voter-approved bonds from past elections that haven’t yet been sold at market.
Sequestration refers to the automatic, across-the-board cuts that will go into effect Jan. 2, 2013, if Congress fails to reach an agreement on budget cuts required under the 2011 federal Budget Control Act.
“We do not have a credit card, and the governor does not have a credit card mentality,” Bennett said.