AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage and Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes struck a deal on Wednesday ending a long impasse that threatened $600 million in transportation bonds held up over a contract with lawyers.
The dispute, which was first reported on Friday by the Bangor Daily News, roiled Maine’s construction industry and risked 4,500 jobs in the state’s short construction season. It led to delays in funding for some projects that were slated to begin as early as this week.
It revolved around the process that preceded the treasurer’s March award to Locke Lord, an international law firm, for a contract to represent the state in its June bond sale, which could include $100 million approved by Maine voters in 2016 for transportation projects that will trigger $500 million in matching funds.
Locke Lord won the contract over Maine law and lobbying giant Preti Flaherty. LePage, a Republican, assailed the request for proposals for language asking for three references from other state treasurers. While Hayes noted that it had been used by past treasurers dating back at least to 2004, the Republican governor argued that it precluded Maine firms from bidding.
After a meeting with LePage on Wednesday, Hayes said the two made a deal to allow Locke Lord to represent the state during the June bond sale, while putting the rest of a three-year contract out to a new bid by July with terms acceptable to LePage.
In return, the governor will allow Hayes to sell the transportation bonds. She said she wasn’t particularly happy with the deal and found the dispute “unnecessary,” but it was the only way to issue the bonds.
“The only motivation in doing this is to get the construction season back underway and I didn’t see any other way to do it,” she said.
LePage said in a statement that he appreciated Hayes’ cooperation and said this was “never a political disagreement,” but “a procedural one” and Mainers “can now get to work on improving our roads, bridges and other infrastructure that is so vital to our economy.”
The Maine Department of Transportation last awarded contracts for this season in April, but many awards slated for May were delayed because of the dispute.
But Maria Fuentes, the executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association, said the deal will likely allow any damage to be “contained” and let the department catch up on awards.
“We really needed something like this to happen,” she said. “So, we’re very grateful that it did.”