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2012 May 14 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Maine Lawmakers Mull Borrowing Requests

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A year after lawmakers decided not to consider any new borrowing, they’re looking again at a list of long-term bond issues topping $400 million that would pay for projects that include state university and community college improvements, highway and bridge improvements and land conservation.

The proposals are on the Appropriations Committee’s agenda as it digs into fiscal matters before the conclusion of the 2012 session. Republican Gov. Paul LePage and minority Democrats have already taken opposing stands on prospects of borrowing.

Bond issues need two-thirds legislative majorities in order to be sent to voters.

LePage insists that lawmakers complete work on a fiscal 2013 state budget that makes meaningful cuts in state expenses to address an $89 million Medicaid shortfall before it agrees to take on more debt, his spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said.

“He wants structural changes that are included in a balanced budget, and ongoing savings,” Bennett said.

Democrats believe the time has arrived for lawmakers to send to voters a bond package that creates jobs, said the party’s House leader, Rep. Emily Cain of Orono.

“Democrats have been calling for investments in our state through bonds for over a year,” said Cain, who thinks putting off borrowing a year ago was a mistake. “Last year was essentially moving backward by standing still.”

While the total in bond bills held over from last year exceeds $421 million, several proposals overlap, so some of the bonds are counted more than once.

The largest single bond proposal, $100 million, addresses transportation projects, land conservation, broadband expansion, and tourism industry training in the state university and community college systems. Two other proposed bond issues, for $62 million and $50 million, also address highway and bridge projects.

A $55 million bond would raise money for weatherization and other energy efficiency improvements in Maine homes, businesses and public buildings. Other bond bills seek money for research and development, improvements to drinking water and wastewater systems, railroad improvements and new helipads and weather monitoring equipment for medical evacuation helicopters.

A $36 million bond issue would resume the state’s land conservation efforts, and $27 million is sought for University of Maine System and Maine Community College System improvements.

Before lawmakers start making choices on new borrowing, they will hear from state fiscal experts who will give the latest figures on existing state debt, said the House chairman of Appropriations, Republican Rep. Patrick Flood of Winthrop. The committee will then refer its findings to leaders, who will decide what shape, if any, a bond package would take.

Flood said he sees a willingness by legislators to consider bonds for a wide range of projects, especially those that bring infrastructure improvements.

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