Bonds...road bonds

Posted Tuesday, August 13, 2013 in News

Bonds...road bonds

by Andi Parkinson

AUGUSTA -- The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee continued the process of dealing with state bonds for transportation, education and research Tuesday, in a sometimes contentious process, made less appealing by several letters insinuating that they were not doing their jobs.

One of the bonds was Gov. Paul LePage's $100 million transportation bond, which includes funding for roads, bridges, ports, and rail.  LePage, after sitting on transportation bonds already passed by the voters for more than a year, suddenly made this bond package an emergency situation.  LePage is pushing Democrats to send the package to the voters in November.

Democrats say waiting until June won't be a serious hardship, and point out that voters never turn a road bond down.  They want to create a comprehensive bond package that includes funding for higher education and land preservation.

The issue has become a political football.  LePage refused to send department heads to appear before the AFA committee.  Democrats had no chance to question officials about the bond, or about the recent snafu in the MaineCare ride program.

Democrats want to ensure that the other bonds also receive approval, by tying them to a road bond.  LePage wants to divorce the transportation bond from other bonds.  Republicans said that the transportation bond can’t wait and could interrupt the Maine Department of Transportation's work plan for 2014 and 2015. However, Democrats counter that other people at MDOT say that there are enough funds, and even a surplus with the bonds that have already been approved by voters, though not issued by the Governor's office.

The Maine Community College System said its $15 million request would affect each of its campuses while adding enrollment to 2,400 students. 

Charles Colgan, a former state economist under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and now an associate director with the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research, told lawmakers that the political debate was between “sooner and less” borrowing and “more and later.” But Colgan’s advice was “sooner and more” borrowing, a move that would allow the state to seize historically low interest rates that could save taxpayers an estimated $20 million on a $100 million bond.

Colgan said that the bonds could be approved in June, and still get the savings.

LePage, in a video, accused the Democratic leadership of failing to act.  Democrats countered that the DOT still had $57 million of voter approved funds that haven't been issued yet.  While generally supportive, Democrats want the higher education funding, and land transportation. 

Republican Ken Fredette said he was disappointed with the talks Tuesday. 


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