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What's Behind Maine Gov's Change of Heart on Bond Proposals
07/11/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

After effectively pulling the plug on new bond proposals two years ago, Republican lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage have had a dramatic change of heart. GOP leaders have notified Democrats that they want a special session in September to act on a bond proposal for next year's infrastructure projects. And in the last hours of the legislative session, Republicans even tried to enact a $100 million bond question for road construction projects next summer. A.J. Higgins looks at new attitudes toward borrowing at the State House.

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Only 14 months ago, Gov. LePage told fellow Republicans at their state convention that not much good ever came out of the bonds that were issued while Democratic Gov. John Baldacci was in office.

"Seven-hundred-and-twenty-five million dollars in bonds were authorized by the Legislature," LePage said. "Seven-hundred-and-twenty-five million dollars created a net of 54 jobs."

And Until very recently, Lepage has opposed all bonding proposals, saying that the state couldn't afford them, and that they failed to generate enough jobs. But as of Monday, LePage was proposing his own $100 million transportation bond, saying the borrowing plan was quote "critical to Maine jobs." So what's with the about face?

"Well I think in part it was the governor's insistence that before we can do any more new borrowing, we really needed to pay the debts that we already had, and that was the debt to the hospitals," says Assistant Senate Republican Leader Roger Katz.

Katz says now that a mechanism has been created to repay the nearly half-billion dollars in Medicaid reimbursements to Maine's hospitals, LePage has taken steps to release more than $100 million in bonds approved by voters three years ago. And with a state transportation budget that's short on funding for new infrastructure improvements, Katz says it's time to get back on the bond bandwagon.

"There's been a delay in the bonding, it's caused a lot of angst to many, many people - I get it," said Katz. "But now it's time to move ahead. And I think if there's one thing that Maine people agree on - of any party - is that we really need to invest in the infrastructure of our highways, roads and bridges. We just can't let it wait any longer."

And Republican and Democratic leaders have confirmed that there will be a special session of the Legislature - most likely in September - to take up a bond package that could conceivably go to the voters for approval in November. And even before the session ended, LePage launched an effort to move his own $100 million transportation bond through the Legislature.

Assistant House Republican Leader Alex Willette expressed frustration when Democrats balked at the plan.

"We really need to invest in our transportation infrastructure, and we need to do it now. And why it's being held up I don't know," Willette says. "Rep. Fredette and I have called upon Democratic leadership to allow us to take an up or down vote on the governor's transportation bond."

But Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves says Republicans tried to push the bond package through by threatening to withhold votes on a bill designed to correct technical errors in the state budget. Eves decided that he wold pass the so-called errors bill without the help of Republicans, who he chastised for holding up bond-funded projects this year.

"They sat by on the sidelines complicit with the governor as the construction season came and went, and they supported this governor in not releasing the bonds," Eves says. "The fact that they are bringing this forward today, I think the people of Maine will see it for what it is, and that's a political stunt."

The governor's bond package went nowhere. But members of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee expect to meet next month to evaluate a new borrowing plan.


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