YARMOUTH, Maine — Sen. Susan Collins said Wednesday that she doesn’t believe the president has the constitutional right to divert money from military and emergency disaster programs to pay for projects at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Trump administration announced last week it would be pulling $271 million from the Department of Homeland Security, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund, to pay for detention space and temporary hearing locations for asylum seekers. It was a similar move to when President Donald Trump diverted billions in military funds to begin construction of a wall along the southern border.
“There is some discretion that he has to move money around. I think that his executive order exceeds his discretion,” Collins said. “…I do believe we need more funding for border security but to me that should be a different avenue that should be pursued.”
Collins said the funding shift made her concerned that the Department of Homeland Security won’t have enough funding to deal with Hurricane Dorian, which is projected to scrape along the Southeastern coast after sitting over the Bahamas this weekend.
The remarks came during an event announcing millions in federal funding for bridge improvements in Maine, attended by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and state Department of Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note.
They announced $25 million in federal grants that will be used to repair bridges in Franklin, Cumberland and Aroostook counties. They also discussed a $36 million infrastructure grant to help repair the Madawaska International Bridge over the St. John River that had been previously announced.
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A cluster of those bridges at Exits 17, 20 and 22 on Interstate 295 were built in the late 1950s and see an average of more than 78,000 commuters on a daily basis, according to the Maine Department of Transportation. Van Note said the route is crucial to Maine’s economy because it connects population centers along the East Coast with Maine’s largest city and is a gateway to the state’s recreational and agricultural industries.
The department expects to advertise for the projects in 2021 and complete them by 2023.
Other bridges impacted include three bridges in Farmington, Wilton and Kingfield, all in Franklin County, which combined see over 9,000 vehicles on average daily, according to state traffic estimates. Those projects are expected to be completed in 2024.
All of the bridges targeted in the grant are considered structurally deficient, according to a transportation department spokesperson. Of Maine’s 2,433 highway bridges, about 306, or 12.5 percent, are structurally deficient, or in “poor” condition.
Chao said the grants will go toward fixing rural infrastructure that has traditionally been ignored.