AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage will propose a transportation bond package early Thursday that is designed to create jobs in the short term and stimulate the economy in the long term.
LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said Wednesday that the governor wants to borrow as much as $100 million for a range of targeted projects involving Maine’s highways and bridges, ports, harbors and railroads. Bennett said LePage has a list of types of projects throughout Maine that he wants to fund with the bond proceeds.
The bonds would trigger approximately $154 million in federal and other matching funds, according to the governor’s office.
LePage is already holding back the issuance of several bonds totaling $105 million approved by voters in 2010 and 2012, including $51.5 million for transportation infrastructure and improvements. The governor has said repeatedly that he will not issue those bonds until Maine’s economy rebounds, and more recently said he would issue them as soon as the Legislature agrees on a plan to repay Maine’s hospitals $484 million — of which state government is responsible for $186 million — they are owed in back Medicaid payments.
Bennett declined to provide any examples of the projects LePage wants to fund with his new bond proposal. According to the text of LePage’s bond bill, An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Improve Highways, Bridges and Multimodal Facilities, sponsored by Sen. Pat Flood, R-Winthrop, the up to $100 million bond would have a payback period of not more than 10 years. The money would be spent in the following ways:
• $46 million to construct or rehabilitate high-priority state highways.
• $5 million for secondary road improvements.
• $30 million to replace and rehabilitate bridges.
• $19 million for ports, harbors, marine transportation, aviation, freight and passenger railroads and transit “that preserve public safety or otherwise have demonstrated high transportation economic value.
If the Legislature approves LePage’s latest bond proposal, he will not approve sale of the bonds until Maine’s hospitals are repaid, Bennett said.
“This bond proposal is contingent on the hospital bill being enacted quickly,” Bennett said. “We have targeted this money to promote economic development and create jobs. The governor will make very clear [Thursday] that this plan is unlike other bond initiatives. … This is targeting areas that we know are going to promote economic development and grow jobs here in Maine.”
Bennett said the projects on LePage’s list would be done “start to finish,” as opposed to in phases that might rely on more funding in the future.
LePage also has proposed a $100 million revenue bond for the construction of a new prison facility in Windham, but the Legislature has yet to debate that bill.
Democrats said LePage should issue bonds already approved by voters before he tries to gain approval for his own.
“We are pleased that the governor seems now to recognize the need to take action on our long-overdue improvements to transportation infrastructure, but he could do that right now by signing over $100 million in bonds that voters have approved and are already on his desk,” said House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham.
Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, agreed and said the governor’s office should not be bypassing the normal bond process that typically has governmental departments of jurisdiction prioritizing how to spend bond proceeds.
“We’re not 100 percent sold that he’s actually going to issue those bonds,” said McCabe. “The governor has done a 180-degree turn on bonding.”
Jodi Quintero, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said this plan by LePage contradicts his long-held stance on borrowing.
“We think he should release the bonds that voters have already approved,” said Quintero. “There’s no reason he can’t sign them into law today and get our construction workers work right now. We don’t need a new proposal. We need him to sign the bonds that have been on his desk for more than 700 days.”
There is little question that Maine is lagging behind on transportation spending. Lawmakers from both parties have long made that case, which was buffered Wednesday by a transportation infrastructure report card released by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The report gave Maine a C-minus for its public infrastructure and claimed that Maine has 77 high-hazard dams, 356 structurally deficient bridges and that 53 percent of roads are poor or mediocre quality.
Legislators are also proposing at least 25 other bond proposals for everything from clean water projects to railroad rehabilitation, which typically aren’t dealt with until late in the legislative session. That’s because lawmakers usually have to approve a biennial budget before they can deal with bonds so they know money is budgeted to for payments.