Matt Timberlake of Ted Berry Co. in Livermore says the transportation bond that he wants legislators to approve would sustain 2,186 jobs.

AUGUSTA — A diverse coalition of advocates for the environment, the economy and other interests are calling on State House leaders to reconvene the Legislature to finish work on a host of bills, including several spending measures and a highway and bridge bonding proposal that would support more than 3,800 construction jobs.

Lydia Dawson of the Maine Association for Community Service Providers said that if the Legislature doesn’t return to pass several bills, direct care workers will face a 12 percent pay cut June 30.

But those pleas Tuesday seemed to fall largely on deaf ears, as legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle issued a pair of prepared comments restating their previously entrenched positions.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, applauded the coalition for demanding action and said Democrats were still standing by. A majority in each party’s caucus must agree to come back to work if the Legislature is to reconvene.

“Moving forward, we will continue to be supportive of working together, coming in for a special session and finally addressing these issues. It is time to do the work necessary for the people of Maine,” Gideon said in her statement. However, Gideon has not polled her members to see if they would agree to return.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport also issued a statement, saying his caucus would be willing to return to work once the budget-writing Appropriations Committee finishes its work on a “final package that sets reasonable priorities for the state of Maine and does not waste taxpayer dollars.”

Gideon, Fredette and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, met with other legislative leaders Monday but did not reach an agreement on when lawmakers should return.

“As I have said throughout this entire process, I believe it is critical for the Legislature to return,” Thibodeau said Tuesday. “The sooner this happens, the better.”

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Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said the coalition’s plea was another reminder that people across the state are waiting on the Legislature to finish its work and to keep its promises, leveling his criticism at House Republicans.

University of Maine System Chancellor James Page speaks at Tuesday’s press conference at the State House.

“The needs of our state are great and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Jackson said. “It just isn’t right that we’re expected to cater to House Republicans just so lawmakers can come in and do what we all know is our job.”

University of Maine Chancellor James Page; Dana Connors, executive director of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce; and several others representing direct care workers for disabled adults and the Associated General Contractors of Maine urged lawmakers to get back to work, saying time was of the essence.

“Stating their support is no longer enough. We need action,” said Lydia Dawson, executive director of the Maine Association for Community Service Providers.

FUNDS FOR JAILS, HIGHWAYS, UMS

Dawson said that if the Legislature doesn’t return to pass several bills into law, direct care workers will face a 12 percent pay cut June 30. She said the jobs, which pay just above minimum wage, are already hard to fill because workers can make more money doing less-demanding work.

“Right now, direct care workers are leaving this field at a rapid pace,” Dawson said, “because they can make more at gas stations, at fast food and other entry-level retail positions.”

Lawmakers adjourned for the year in May after Democrats and Republicans in the nearly evenly divided Legislature were unable to broker a compromise on extending the legislative session. The disagreements hinge on funding for Medicaid expansion and a proposed slowdown of increases in the minimum wage.

With the end of the state’s fiscal year looming on June 30, time may be running out for some measures.

Last week the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee approved a trio of bills that would set state funding for county jails and increase state reimbursement rates for some 4,000 direct care workers, including those who work in nursing homes and group homes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Negotiators didn’t reach agreement on other key measures, including a bill to fix an error in the state’s budget law that has locked up funding for candidates running under the state’s Clean Election Act. The committee also left unfinished a proposed $100 million highway and bridge borrowing package that would have to be approved by voters in November.

Without the bond, the Maine Department of Transportation will be unable to apply for federal matching funds under a new round of highway grants, including about $10 billion that will be made available to states nationwide.

Also left on the table is a $75 million borrowing proposal that would fund infrastructure improvements for University of Maine System campuses, and a bill to help fund wastewater treatment facility upgrades statewide.

CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY WORRIED

Page, the UMaine System chancellor, said the bonding package funds would leverage matching private donations to expand capacity in several key career fields, including nursing, engineering and education.

He said that by 2025, Maine is going to fall 158,000 workers short of labor force needs for employees with four-year degrees or more. Without improving campus infrastructure, the state will be unable to compete as it recruits students, he said.

“To make these infrastructure improvements while keeping tuition affordable for Maine families, public universities must have public investment,” Page said.

Wearing a hard hat and a fluorescent safety vest, Matt Timberlake, president of the Livermore-based Ted Berry Co., said a state transportation bond would leverage another $71 million in local and federal funds and sustain 2,186 jobs.

“The impacts to the construction industry will be enormous if a comprehensive bond package is not passed,” he said.

Connors, at the state chamber, said the 126-member coalition that formed to urge lawmakers to return are often on opposing sides of issues but were united on the urgent need for the Legislature to get some key bills passed.

“Today we speak as one,” Connors said. “We have come together because there are many important issues facing our state’s economy and our people. Issues that are as diverse as we are. … Issues that are all too important to ignore or deny.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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