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Mainers to consider $150 million in borrowing for colleges, transportation and military on Nov. 5 ballot

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
he State House in Augusta.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Proposals for borrowing that united Democrats and Republicans in the State House are laid out in five questions on the Nov. 5 ballot. They are the only items on the state ballot, representing requests for voter approval to borrow some $182 million for transportation projects, improvements to Maine Army National Guard facilities and a slew of projects at the state’s higher education institutions,

Gov. Paul LePage has used bonds as a bargaining chip throughout his administration, including delays in authorizing borrowing that voters approved as far back as 2009. LePage held fast on the notion that more borrowing would put too much pressure on the state’s already strapped finances. He eventually authorized the issuance of the previously approved bonds earlier this year after the Legislature agreed to his plan to pay hospitals hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid debt.

LePage and Republicans found themselves in the rare position of lobbying for more borrowing in the final few days of the legislative session when they launched a push for a $100 million transportation bond. Legislative leaders initially were content to wait until January, when lawmakers are set to reconvene, to deal with the bonds. Instead they convened a special session in August at which five previously negotiated bond questions breezed to bipartisan approval.

Here’s a breakdown:

Question 1

“Do you favor a $14,000,000 bond issue to provide funds for the state’s share of maintenance, repair, capital improvement, modernization and energy efficiency projects for Maine Army National Guard readiness centers and support facilities and the purchase of land for training and to draw down federal matching funds?”

According to summaries prepared by the Secretary of State’s office, $11 million of that sum would would fund maintenance and repair, capital improvements and energy efficiency at Maine Army National Guard armories across Maine. The money would leverage up to $14 million in federal funds. State Treasurer Neria Douglass estimates that the 10-year note will cost approximately $3 million in interest.

Maj. Michael R. Steinbuchel, spokesman for the Maine National Guard, said the organization has 34 facilities and 215 buildings that average 50 years old. That means there are windows and roofs with little or no insulation and numerous heating systems that rely on 1950s technology. As an example, the armory in Houlton costs $60,000 a year to heat but the improvements funded by this bond would cut that to an estimated $20,000 a year.

The remaining $3 million would be used to purchase up to 6,000 acres for a machine gun training facility. Steinbuchel said troops and airmen are currently doing that training in either Vermont or Massachusetts.

This is the first time in more than 30 years that the Maine Army National Guard has been the subject of a statewide bond request. The organization currently supports about 2,100 soldiers and 1,100 airmen.

Question 2

“Do you favor a $15,500,000 bond issue to enhance educational and employment opportunities for Maine citizens and students by updating and improving existing laboratory and classroom facilities of the University of Maine System statewide?”

This bond would pay for $5.5 million in improvements to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) facilities at the Orono campus; $1.2 million to upgrade science and nursing labs at the system’s Augusta and Bangor campuses; $1.2 million to renovate science facilities at the Farmington campus; $1.2 million to upgrade nursing and forestry programs in Fort Kent; $1.2 million to upgrade a science laboratory and make renovations on the Machias campus; $1.2 million for upgrades to STEM facilities in Presque Isle; and $4 million to upgrade laboratories at University of Southern Maine.

This 10-year note would cost approximately $3.4 million in interest.

Question 3

“Do you favor a $100,000,000 bond issue for reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities or equipment related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation and transit, to be used to match an estimated $154,000,000 in federal and other funds?”

This bond, if approved, would provide state funding for $44 million for improvements to state roads and highways; $5 million for secondary road improvements in partnership with municipalities; $27 million for bridge work; and $24 million for ports, harbors, marine transportation, aviation and rail improvement, including property acquisition at the International Marine Terminal in the Port of Portland.

The interest on this 10-year note would be approximately $22 million.

Question 4

“Do you favor a $4,500,000 bond issue to provide funds for a public-private partnership for a building project for a new science facility at the Maine Maritime Academy to be matched by other funds?”

This money would help pay for an estimated $14 million construction project at Maine Maritime’s campus in Castine that includes classrooms, faculty offices and laboratories.

This bond would cost an estimated $990,000 in interest over 10 years.

Question 5

“Do you favor a $15,500,000 bond issue to upgrade buildings, classrooms and laboratories on the seven campuses of the Maine Community College System in order to increase capacity to serve more students through expanded programs in health care, precision machining, information technology, criminal justice and other key programs?”

This bond would construct a $2.4 million building containing science laboratories, classrooms and office space for new and expanded associate degree programs at Central Maine Community College in Auburn; a $2.5 million addition to Maine Hall at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor that includes classroom and laboratory space for health sciences and criminal justice majors; $2 million for a range of upgrades at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield that would benefit the institution’s precision machining, electrical lineworker, culinary arts and early childhood programs; $900,000 to renovate Aroostook Hall and construct a new maintenance facility at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle; $3.4 million to renovate and upgrade buildings at Southern Maine Community College’s Brunswick campus, which will help increase enrollment in the integrated manufacturing program; $1 million for energy efficiency projects at the Harold Howland Building at Washington County Community College in Calais, as well as conversion of space for the college’s heavy equipment program; and $3.4 million for a new building at York County Community College in Wells that will house a new precision machining program.

Interest on this bond would be around $3.4 million over 10 years.

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