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Effort to Get Bond Package on Maine's November Ballot in Trouble
08/13/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

Now is a good time for the state to borrow money for investments in transportation and other state infrastructure needs. That was the message delivered to members of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee today. But it's very unlikely that a package can be worked out this week in time to go to the voters in November. Mal Leary explains why.

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Gov. Paul LePage wants a $100 million bond for transportation projects. Others want bonds for higher education facilities, water and sewer projects, and dozens of other areas. University of Southern Maine economist Charles Colgan told lawmakers now is the time to borrow and invest in the future.

"I know there is a debate between sooner and less, and more and later - I would prefer sooner and more," Colgan said.

But negotiating a bond package is much like negotiating a state budget: It takes time and broad support of both political parties to pass; it takes a two-thirds vote to send a bond question to the voters for their approval. Winthrop Sen. Pat Flood, the lone Republican senator on the panel, says it does not appear that the work has been done to negotiate a package.

"Every time you do a negotiation like this it becomes a negotiation where people actually have to sit down and talk constructively with each other, and I am not sure that has happened yet," Flood says.

Lewiston Democrat Peggy Rotundo, the House co-chair of the committee, says lawmakers should have passed a bond package last June.

"This is the best time that we will probably have, forever, that we will have to bond with really low interest rates. And so we missed an opportunity," Rotundo says. "We have huge needs in terms of our infrastructure."

Frustrating members of both parties was a directive from Gov. LePage that his commissioners not appear before the committee to answer questions. Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt was just down the hall from the Appropriations Committee room, but could not appear - which bothered Sen. Dawn Hill, a Democrat from Cape Neddick, who co-chairs the committee.

"I have to share my disappointment in a department of that size not being able to send someone over on such an important bond to talk with us a little more," Hill says.

Rep. Kathleen Chase, from Wells, is the Republican lead on the committee, and she says if commissioners had been present to answer questions and negotiate, a bond package might have been worked out in time for placement on the November ballot.

"It is tough for them to not have the ability to come in and appear be in front of us, because that appears to be what is happening," Chase says. "It isn't they didn't want to come, it's just that is not in their dictate at this moment to be able to do that. And, and I think that is unfortunate because I think a lot of things could have moved ahead very quickly if they had been there."

As it stands, lawmakers would have to meet in special session this week to pass any bond for the November ballot, and that is now very unlikely.


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