AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage has stalled the sale of voter-approved bonds in a dispute with the Legislature over state borrowing and a package of new spending bills.

LePage spokesman Peter Steele said Monday that the governor was concerned about “11th-hour legislative spending” and was asking State Treasurer Terry Hayes for additional time to consider signing off on about a $117 million borrowing package meant to pay for a variety of projects, including $80 million of highway projects currently underway.

“For the time being, state government will use existing resources to fund key priorities, such as maintaining and improving our infrastructure,” Steele wrote in a statement to the media. “The governor will continue to monitor excessive legislative spending with Maine’s bottom line and the best interest of taxpayers in mind.”

LePage later told Maine Public that the bonds were being held up because he didn’t have all the information he needed from Hayes. But Hayes produced documents showing LePage had been kept up to date until his final signature was needed to authorize the bond sales.

The governor’s tactic quickly drew criticism from House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who said LePage’s action was putting thousands of jobs at risk because the bonds are needed to pay for infrastructure improvements.

“It is irresponsible and incomprehensible,” Gideon said in a prepared statement. “By imperiling $117 million worth of state borrowing unless his petty demands are met, the governor has proven once again that he is more than willing to put Maine people, Maine businesses and Maine’s economy at risk.”

Gideon urged LePage to reverse course.

LePage’s action wasn’t expected to have immediate impacts on projects underway around the state, but contractors were concerned that funding could run out if the bonds are not issued soon.

Matt Marks, chief executive officer for the Associated General Contractors of Maine, an industry association, said the Maine Department of Transportation would still have enough cash on hand to make on-time payments to contractors working on about 352 highway or bridge projects underway statewide. But if LePage does not authorize the sale of new bonds within five weeks, that funding would run short and payments to contractors would be delayed.

“It sounds like they are working out some agreements,” Marks said. “But it has been a lot of anxiety still.”

Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot confirmed that the agency would have funds to stay on its payment schedule for contractors for the next five weeks.

The department’s 2018 work plan includes $7.7 million for public transportation improvements in Portland, $10 million for a new Casco Bay ferry and more than $6 million for road repair and paving throughout Greater Portland, including along Washington, Stevens and Cumberland avenues, Routes 114 and Interstate 295.

Beyond highway projects, other borrowing measures already approved by Maine voters include: $8 million for port, harbor and marine transportation upgrades and $25 million for commercialization, research and development for emerging industries.

LePage has previously withheld his signature on voter-approved state borrowing in order to compel the Legislature to take other actions. In 2015, for example, he delayed dozens of Land for Maine’s Future conservation projects for months in an attempt to make the Legislature use revenue from state timber sales for a low-income heating program, while increasing the timber harvest from state lands.

The clash over bonds already approved by voters came as lawmakers continue to wrangle over another package of bonding proposals, including more than $100 million for highways, bridges and ports that would fund a portion of the Maine Department of Transportation’s ongoing work plan during the 2018-19 fiscal year. Those bonds, if approved by the Legislature, would be sent to voters in November.

The Legislature voted to move forward with two more bond proposals on Monday, despite the latest dust-up with LePage.

Both the House and the Senate gave initial approval to a proposal to seek voter authorization for $30 million in general obligation bonds to help municipalities pay for upgrades to aging sewer infrastructure and wastewater treatment plants. That is smaller than the $50 million bond bill originally proposed, but still would allow municipalities to leverage more than $70 million in federal grants.

Additionally, both the House and Senate gave initial approval for a ballot measure seeking $64 million in general obligation bonds to modernize and improve facilities within the University of Maine System and Maine Community College System. However, on a second vote the House fell short of the two-thirds threshold for sending a bonding measure out to voters, and the bill was stuck between the Senate and House late Monday when the both adjourned for the day. The aim of the bonds is to expand workforce development programs at colleges and universities in order to attract and retain students to work in high-demand fields.

“This bond is an investment that will cost less than a single new high school, but it’s one that will surely bring more students, jobs, investment and opportunities to our public university and community college campuses,” said the bonding bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erik Jorgensen, D-Portland. “Economic development requires a well-trained workforce, and these campuses are our primary tool for creating that workforce.”

Republicans in the Maine House said they switched from supporting the education bond to opposing it because they wanted to make sure the Legislature approves a bonding package for transportation projects.

Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, a member of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he supported the education bonds, but said that the transportation package was important and needed to be the priority. “I reluctantly am going to have to vote against this pending motion until we take care of the most important bond we have,” Parry said.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said finding agreement on the transportation bond was going to be a key for lawmakers being able to end a special lawmaking session that started last week. Lawmakers came back to complete work that was left unfinished when the Legislature adjourned in May amid a partisan stalemate.

“I think it’s important that we look at all the matters sort of in totality,” Fredette said, “understanding that we need to resolve a number of issues to find our way out of the building.”

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

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.