Lawmakers will return to session Monday to hear proposals from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills for four bond proposals she says are needed to fix state infrastructure.
The total of $163 million in borrowed money would be split into different areas needing improvement. Transportation projects would receive $105 million, the largest of the four bonds. A $23 million bond centered around economic development would be spent on broadband expansion, as well as an additional $4 million granted for workforce development and National Guard facilities’ renovations.
“With thousands of households and small businesses struggling with poor internet, with Mainers navigating aging roads and bridges, and with the future of Maine’s farm lands and working waterfronts at risk, I am calling a special session to consider bonds that address these issues head-on,” Mills said in a statement announcing the special session.
The final two bonds include $15 million for pollution cleaning and energy efficiency loans and $20 million for Land for Maine’s upcoming conservation projects program.
Maria Fuentes, executive director of Maine Better Transportation Association, said she was excited for the potential that the transportation bond would help finance highways, bridges and multimodal projects, aside from being used as state cash in order to leverage another $200 million in federal funds.
“I think that it’s really important that the state continue to invest in its infrastructure,” Fuentes told The Center Square. “Without the bond, [Maine Department of Transportation] would have to cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of their capital work plan, which is already very, very heavy on maintenance.”
Fuentes said the Democratics originally wanted to combine all four bonds into one large package, with an approximate total of $239 million. Republicans, however, were not interested in supporting that much borrowing.
Even with the slimmer set of proposals now in store, significant opposition to the bond efforts remains. The Maine Heritage Policy Center, for instance, lamented the potential for a raft of new debt on top of an already immense burden that Maine taxpayers are carrying.
"Since 1980, approximately $604 million taxpayer dollars have been used to pay the interest on general obligation bonds while $206 million has been spent on interest for transportation bonds – $810 million in total," the center's Adam Crepeau wrote. "Worse yet, when you include the principal amount borrowed, data from the Office of the State Treasurer show that taxpayers have foot the bill for a total of $3.4 billion in borrowing since 1980."
Some lawmakers have also taken issue with the special session.
"While I strongly support funding our roads and bridges, borrowing against future sales and income taxes is NOT the way to do this," state Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, wrote on Twitter. "Since I was first elected in 2007 Maine has slashed the constitutionally separate, pay-as-you-go Highway Fund … instead doubling the rate at which we borrow for transportation purposes. This is wrong. Until things change, I plan NOT to support further bonding in this area."
2/2 — instead doubling the rate at which we borrow for transportation purposes. This is wrong. Until things change, I plan NOT to support further bonding in this area. #mepolitics #bonds #paygo #constitutionallyseparate— Seth Berry (@SethBerry) August 20, 2019
Republican state Rep. Scott Strom of Pittsfield also aired his concerns about the special session on Twitter.
"3 out of the 4 bond packages still have multiple items merged into a single package," Strom wrote. "The infrastructure and economic development bond package has 3 very different items in it to fund. This is unacceptable."
Bonds that receive two-thirds approval from both the House and the Senate will be signed by the governor and introduced on the November ballot, according to Fuentes.
“There’s a whole lot more that needs to be done, however, there are certain constraints and I think Maine legislators historically have been very responsible about not overborrowing,” Fuentes said. “There’s a lot of needs that are not being met just because we don’t have the funding to do it.”