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$104M in Maine Voter-Approved Bond Money to Begin Flowing
07/03/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

After months of political wrangling, a $104 million bond package approved last year by Maine voters is finally moving forward. State Treasurer Neria Douglass says her office is prepared to fund some of the projects immediately, in anticipation of the actual bond bids going out in the fall. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders would like to craft a new bond package over the summer that could be approved by the voters in November. A.J. Higgins has more.

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$104M in Maine Voter-Approved Bond Money to Begin Listen

Maine voters will finally get a chance to see some of the bond projects they authorized last November at the ballot box. Work could begin on some of the $96 million in projects later this month. Maine Gov. Paul LePage had held up the release of the bonds until lawmakers approved a mechanism to repay nearly a half-billion dollars in outstanding Medicaid debt to Maine's hospitals.

Agreement on the proposal was reached last month and Sawin Millet, the governor's chief of finance, says the agencies are now submitting their projects.

"We want to put this on fast track, start soliciting from the agencies that have bond authorizations how quickly they're going to need that money," Millett says. "We gathered in two weeks a schedule that was topping out in the low 60s (million) -- it's now up to about 70."

A little more than $50 million of the bonds will be used for transportation improvements, $20 million will go for research and development, and about $11 million for higher education.

Maine State Treasurer Neria Douglass has been prodding the administration to release the bonds ever since she was elected to office by majority Democrats in the Legislature. Douglass says that along with vital projects, there are jobs on the line.

"If the contracts were ready to go, we're ready to fund them," Douglass says. "We can do that internally through the cash pool. And we've had the discussion with both the controller, Terry Brann and Sawin Millett, the commissioner, that we could fund through the end of December from the cash pool without problem; in fact, we can go through to January and fund the highway request."

Even though the process for the release of the bonds is now underway, resentment lingers between LePage and majority Democrats over the bond dispute.

"Once again, this governor is taking no personal responsibility for the lack of job creation in the state of Maine," says Senate President Justin Alfond, who says the bonds should have been released six months ago. "These bonds have been held for hundreds and hundreds of days, and Democrats, Republicans and independents want these projects to be released so we can get people back to work."

And Democratic leaders say they are now weighing the possibility of a special legislative session in September, if Republicans also want to get department gond requests on the November ballot for implementation next summer.

House Speaker Mark Eves says once lawmakers see exactly which projects are being done this year, other bonded projects can be considered.

"The Legislature will be working over the summer and fall to see if we can come to an agreement on a comprehensive bond package that can move the state forward and invest in the things that we need to be investing in, such as roads and bridges and research and development and education," Eves says. "So really, the sooner the governor releases the bonds, the sooner we can craft a bond package to fill the gaps."

Speaking for LePage, Finance Chief Sawin Millett says the Democrats' plans for bonds seem vague, and that the administration wants to know more about what projects they have in mind for next year.


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