If congressional leaders in Washington fail to make a deal to replenish billions of dollars in federal highway funding by the end of July, Maine plans to draw on savings and bond money so it can continue with road and bridge projects during August and September.

The temporary funding plan, announced Friday by the office of Gov. Paul LePage, would rely in on an estimated $27 million to $29 million from a state transportation trust fund and, if a long-term solution proves elusive, additional bonding money.

“Inaction on both of these matters has both short- and long-term negative effects on transportation infrastructure and construction industry jobs, as well as Maine’s economy as a whole,” LePage said. “This is another example of the federal government playing games, which harm Maine’s ability to keep people working and fix our roads and bridges, which are in need of repair after the long winter.”

At issue is the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by the federal fuel tax and is distributed to states to pay for infrastructure projects.

Without congressional action, the highway fund is expected to become insolvent by the beginning of August, triggering a roughly 70 percent reduction in reimbursements to states.

In August alone, the state expected to receive $40 million in federal cash to pay for construction projects, or about a quarter of the roughly $165 million Maine receives annually in federal highway dollars.

LePage’s call for congressional action was also conveyed through a letter to Maine’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and is running for governor against LePage and independent Eliot Cutler.

In his letter, LePage said that if Congress cannot figure out a deal to reauthorize funding, he should be given the authority to collect federal gas taxes that are traditionally “sent to Washington.”

“My administration knows how to manage money, and it knows how to get it done,” he wrote.

In a statement from his congressional office Friday, Michaud noted that the House Ways and Means Committee, and not the transportation committee, has oversight over the Highway Trust Fund.

He said he had been working with Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee since last month to avoid a trust fund shortfall, but Republican leadership in the House refused to take up the legislation.

Michaud said U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Michigan, chairman of the committee, finally introduced a funding proposal this week.

“I’m encouraged to see that Governor LePage is finally paying attention to an issue which I’ve been advocating for and working on for months,” Michaud said.

If the federal shortfall extends into September, the LePage administration plans to tap into state bond money.

“Again, this is not new money, and if federal funds for full reimbursements are not restored, there will be a need to curtail projects statewide,” said Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt.

“If there is still no resolution to the cash-flow crisis by Oct. 1, there will be few options left and would likely force a devastating decision to reduce and/or delay payments to contractors for work already performed.”

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