AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills blasted minority Republicans in the Maine Legislature as “the party of no” on Monday, when they blocked $58 million in conservation, broadband and infrastructure bonds while letting transportation borrowing move forward.
Mills, a Democrat, called lawmakers back to Augusta just ahead of a deadline to put bond measures on the November ballot after Democrats and Republicans deadlocked on her original $239 million proposal ahead of the end of their regular 2019 business in June.
She slimmed it to $163 million and acceded to a Republican demand that the four bonds be considered separately by Monday, but Republicans never guaranteed that anything but the transportation bond would get the two-thirds support needed in both chambers to go to voters.
“I think the Republican Party in this Legislature has become the party of procrastination, the party of no,” Mills told reporters Monday. “They’ve come back with nothing in the way of bonds and simply say, ‘Let’s kick the can down the road.’”
Maine Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, said his caucus would support the transportation bond and nothing else, saying that lawmakers may have to pass a supplemental state budget when they return for the 2020 session in January amid economic uncertainty and bonds could be placed on the March ballot during the Democratic presidential primary.
“Borrowing now when we do not know what the January bill will be, in my opinion, is irresponsible and unnecessary,” Dow said in a floor speech.
The $105 million transportation bond has been seen as the most urgent of the items in Mills’ package and passed nearly unanimously on Monday. The other three measures — including a $20 million conservation bond and $15 million more for broadband expansion — died amid a lack of Republican support.
Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note said earlier this month not getting the transportation bond — which will be matched by $137 million in federal money — would put the agency in “ a world of hurt,” risking half of a $350 million fund largely dedicated to core projects — road construction, paving and bridge replacements.
Dow said supporting the transportation projects was easy for his members, beyond what he characterized as a “preliminary” discussion between him and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. But Jackson said Dow told him Republicans would support all four packages when they spoke, saying “to say they didn’t know they were a part of it or anything is just disingenuous” and they had a “loose agreement” on the subject.
“It’s unfortunate,” Jackson said. “They’re just not being sincere.”
The conservation bond was a priority for many Democrats and some Republicans developed after work from a state task force that aimed to reinvigorate the Land for Maine’s Future program. Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage spent much of 2015 holding up bonds for the program, and Maine has not decided on a bond on that subject since 2011.
Maine has struggled to develop a policy response to internet speeds that were ranked second-slowest among states in the middle of 2018, according to a report from Broadband Now. The state’s top broadband access official has said expanding high-speed internet to the last 10 percent of Maine households could cost more than $1 billion.
BDN writer Caitlin Andrews contributed to this report.