April 12, 2010

Last chance for bonds package

Democrats hope to convert a few Republicans

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- When lawmakers return to the State House today they will have 13 bills left on the agenda, the most controversial of which is an $85 million borrowing package.

The bill, L.D. 1826, failed on the final Senate vote Wednesday, leading Democrats to table it in hopes of finding more support for it over the weekend.

The package includes nearly $70 million to pay for rail and highway improvements and the Ocean Gateway Deep Water Pier in Portland. There is $5 million for ocean wind energy sites, $5 million for water and wastewater improvements, and $5 million for a new dental clinic and to expand access to dental care across the state.

Borrowing $85 million is estimated to cost nearly $19 million in interest, bringing the total cost of borrowing to almost $104 million, according to the state's fiscal office.

On Friday, Appropriations Committee Senate Chairman Bill Diamond, D-Windham, put out a statement urging Senate Republicans -- who unanimously rejected the proposal -- to come on board.

"Job creation is not a partisan issue," he said in the statement. "Both parties believe putting people to work is the highest priority of this Legislature and the package before us does that in an affordable way."

Diamond cited figures from the Association of General Contractors, a construction industry trade group, which estimates 2,750 jobs will be created or saved by the bond money.

Yet in their weekly radio address Saturday, Republicans held firm, saying the package is just too big.

"One after another, Republicans' good faith, affordable and fiscally responsible plans were summarily dismissed, by a Democratic majority, so confident that they would prevail that they were unwilling to negotiate," said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Jonathan Courtney, R-Springvale.

Unlike many legislative actions, bonds need two-thirds support, which means they require at least some Republican support. In the House, the $85 million package passed by just one vote.

In the Senate, at least four Republicans would need to vote in support to meet the threshold if all Senators are present at the time of the vote.

If approved by the Legislature, all but $5 million of the bonds would go on the June 8 ballot for voter approval. The money for dental services would be on the November ballot.

Other bills still pending include:

* "An Act to Prohibit Furnishing a Place for Minors to Use Illegal Drugs"

* "An Act to Improve the Seed Capital Investment Tax Credit Program"

* "An Act Regarding Energy Infrastructure Development"

* "An Act to Waive Certain Penalties Imposed against School Administrative Units if the State Has Not Fulfilled Its Goal of Paying 55 percent of the Costs"

The Senate is scheduled to come in at 10 a.m., followed by the House at 1 p.m.

Susan Cover -- 620-7015


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