AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s budget-writing committee has approved nearly $150 million of state borrowing to pay for transportation infrastructure and projects at higher education facilities and National Guard armories.
The unanimous vote by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, a legislative formality, sends the bond package to a special session of the Legislature planned for Aug. 29. Gov. Paul LePage called lawmakers back to the State House after striking a deal with Democrats on the bond issue last week.
“This is a strong, robust bond package that will create much needed jobs and strengthen our state’s economy,” said Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, the Senate chairwoman of the committee. “Making critical investments to improve our infrastructure, support higher education and maintain our armories sooner rather than later is a win for Maine people, our state and our economy.”
LePage and Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt made a $100 million transportation bond their chief priority in recent weeks, pushing the Legislature to come back for a special session in time to get a transportation bond question on the November ballot. Bonds must be approved by voters after they are green-lit by two-thirds votes of lawmakers.
Democrats, who control both chambers of the Legislature, were hesitant to act on the transportation bond alone, saying it would be considered in September, along with other bonds carried over from the last legislative session. That would have delayed a referendum until June.
LePage and Bernhardt said a June referendum would have stalled needed transportation projects in the 2014 construction season. LePage said he’d entertain a bond package up to $150 million — as long as it only included infrastructure spending — if Democrats would meet sooner.
After negotiations last week, a bond deal was struck that included the $100 million for transportation infrastructure, as well as $35.5 million for upgrades at every campus in the University of Maine and Maine Community College systems and Maine Maritime Academy, plus $14 million for maintenance and renovations at National Guard armories throughout the state.
The package results in five separate bond questions, which will appear at the ballot box in November.
“I am pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that allows us to maintain the safety and economic benefit of Maine’s infrastructure,” said House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport. “My thanks go out to the Appropriations Committee, and I look forward to seeing the economic benefit that I know this package will have on the people of Maine.”
As part of the deal, Republicans also agreed to take up bonds on research and development, land conservation and water quality projects — priorities for Democrats — in January.
During a news conference Wednesday, Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said that after working with their Republican counterparts, they were confident the full bond package would pass both chambers during the special session.
In a statement, LePage said the bond would boost Maine’s economy by providing jobs for workers as the construction, maintenance and renovation work gets underway across the state.
“Today’s unanimous support of my bond package from the Appropriations Committee puts Maine further down the road toward prosperity and increased productivity,” he wrote. “I look forward to this package being approved by the full Legislature next week and by Maine voters this November so construction crews can quickly get to work, and people and goods can continue to move safely and swiftly in and out of our state.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously refered to House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick as a Republican. He is a Democrat.