AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills rolled out a $239 million bond package Tuesday that would, among other things, invest in broadband internet and renewable energy, replace aging roads and bridges and rebuild the Land for Maine’s Future program.

Speaking from the Cabinet Room with more than a dozen commissioners lined up behind her, the Democratic governor called the bond proposal a series of “targeted, reasonable investments.”

“Today my administration is announcing an investment of strategy to expand our economy, diversify our economy and address the most critical challenges facing our state, and to position the state to succeed for the future,” she said.

The measures all require legislative approval before going out to voters. Mills said she envisions $189 million on the ballot this November and the remaining $50 million pushed to 2020.

State bonds are always part of the budget discussions because the state’s debt service – the total payout for all existing borrowing – is a substantial line item. Republicans and Democrats alike are typically in favor of bonds, although there often is disparity over priorities.

Mills said leaders from the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee have been briefed about her proposals. In addition to the $239 million proposed by the governor, there are dozens of bonds bills under consideration that total nearly $2 billion. Some of those overlap with Mills’ priorities and many others will never be heard.

The biggest of the four bonds proposed by Mills is $105 million for transportation. This would be the 5th consecutive year Maine has borrowed a large sum to invest in roads and bridges. Mills said every Mainer is aware of the conditions of state roads and that this borrowing would trigger as much as $140 million in federal funding as well.

Gov. Janet Mills Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The next biggest bond, $65 million, is for environmental protection and clean energy, with the biggest amount, $30 million, going toward the Land for Maine’s Future Program, which helps preserve land from development.

“It’s time we rectify past mistakes and reinvest in that vital program that has always garnered incredible support at the polls. Maine people want it,” Mills said, taking a shot at her predecessor, Republican Paul LePage, who was not supportive of the program.

An additional $20 million from the bond would go to cleanup of hazardous materials. Mills said there are 251 active sites that need attention.

The smallest bond, $19 million, is for workforce development. Mills said $4 million would go to the Maine Community College System to support two mobile welding labs to train prospective welders; $5 million would support career technical centers and $5 million would be invested in child care options for working Mainers.

The governor said she believes that, if approved, this would be the first bond to address child care directly.

“Working full time as a parent in this state can be next to impossible. It’s time we recognize this need,” she said. “We need to attract young families with children to Maine. We also need young parents to be able and available to work. The two are not incompatible.”

The remaining $50 million in borrowing proposed by Mills would be for economic development, including $30 million to expand broadband internet access. Mills said there are still more than 80,000 Maine households that don’t have access.

“We can no longer be a dial-up state in a 5G nation,” she said.

Another $15 million from the economic development bonds would go to the Maine Technology Institute.

Among those appearing with Mills on Tuesday was state Treasurer Henry Beck. Last week, Beck announced that Maine had been given good ratings from Moody’s and Standard & Poors, the two major agencies that assess credit ratings.

S&P credited Maine with recent deposits into the Budget Stabilization Fund, low debt and modest pension liability, liquidity provided by access to a large cash pool, and “a history of active budget management that we expect to continue.”

Much of that can be tied to LePage, who made fiscal restraint one of his top priorities throughout his two terms.

The bond package proposed by Mills is slightly bigger than the $200 million voters approved last November for highways and bridges, wastewater treatment and infrastructure improvements to Maine’s public universities and community colleges.

The year before, voters authorized $155 million in bonds for transportation infrastructure and various research and development projects.

Both Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash and House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport expressed support of Mills’ bonds. Jackson singled out investments in career and technical education. Gideon said the package “lays out a clear strategy for moving Maine into a competitive position in the 21st Century.”

John Bott, a spokesman for House Republicans, said members would ask for more details about individual components to assess the impact on future debt service and on the state’s credit rating.

“We also want assurances that this is a total biennial package, representing all proposed new bonding over the next two years,” he said. “The Legislature should consider and vote on four separate proposals, the same way Maine voters will be asked to approve them.”

Asked why lawmakers should support her bond proposals over the dozens of others that have been proposed by lawmakers, Mills had a pointed response.

“When I was in the Legislature, I signed a lot of bills (as co-sponsor). They all sound like good ideas,” she said. “But I have a Cabinet of 15 people who have direct knowledge and long expertise and background in these areas and they have contributed greatly to my understanding of these issues.”

Although Mills had not proposed bonds before this, in her first week in office, she did release $15 million in voter-approved bonds for senior housing that LePage sat on for three years.

Mills said Tuesday that she would “never hold them hostage,” the way LePage did.

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