AUGUSTA, Maine — The top two legislative Democrats repeated their call on Monday for Republican Gov. Paul LePage to release millions of dollars worth of voter-approved bonds.
LePage has sat on the bonds for about a month, saying he would not release them until lawmakers restored roughly $21 million from the state’s rainy day fund. Lawmakers recently approved a bill that used that money as part of a plan to fund $40 million in state aid to municipalities that was cut in the biennial budget. LePage has said depleting the rainy day fund will cause the state’s credit rating to drop, though Democrats have disputed that claim.
The governor proposed a bill, LD 1807, to use state employee health insurance savings and leftover cash in the Department of Education budget to restore the rainy day fund. Democrats on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee approved an amended version of the bill last week, which includes about $17 million in spending next year, most on education and contractually obligated raises for state employees. That spending is paid for in large part by cutting or repealing tax credits for businesses.
Every Republican on the committee opposed the amended bill, opting instead to support the “clean” version proposed by the governor.
Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland and House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick said the amended bill represents an effort by appropriators to give the governor what he wanted while also addressing needs in the upcoming budget.
“They were able to come together, pass a bill that provided for the governor’s request,” Eves said. “Everything that he was asking for, he got — and we were able to move the state budget forward.”
Eves and Alfond said it was critical the governor act now because the bonds are needed to fund jobs throughout the state in the upcoming short construction season.
Said Alfond: “For the past month we’ve been dealing with a familiar play from a four-year-old playbook. Once again, bonds, construction projects and jobs have been held back by the governor for his own political gain. This is no way to run a state, no way to help our economy and certainly no way to put people back to work.
“There’s no more excuses to hold up the bonds,” Alfond said.
Meanwhile, Alfond and Appropriations Committee member Erik Jorgensen, D-Portland, said Republican appropriators had been on board with the proposals in the amended bill until GOP leadership put pressure on them to oppose it.
Sen. Patrick Flood of Winthrop, the only Republican senator on the committee, said that was not true. “That has never happened in all the time I’ve been here,” Flood said.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said he put no pressure on members of the committee, but he did meet with them about the bill. Fredette told them that the amended bill would not have the support of the Republican Caucus in the House, or the governor.
“We communicated that concern to the appropriators, and they voted how they wanted to,” he said.
For his part, LePage plans to veto the amended bill if it hits his desk, said his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett.
“We have a fiscally prudent governor who is looking out for the best interest of Maine taxpayers,” she said. “He presented a solution and Democrats are using every play in the book to stall this and blame the governor.
“With a vote on the clean version of the bill, the bonds would go out tomorrow,” she said.
State Treasurer Neria Douglass said Monday that about $79.5 million worth of infrastructure projects could not move forward without the governor releasing the bonds. Some of those projects have been halted mid-completion by the gridlock in Augusta.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.