Maine Republicans block bond proposals claiming budget concerns

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Maine Gov. Janet Mills was unable to move three of her general obligation bond proposals past opposition from the state legislature's Republican minorities.

The legislature with GOP backing provided the necessary two-thirds majority approval to place a $105 million transportation bond proposition on the November ballot when they convened for a special session Monday that was called by the Democratic governor.

But $58 million of other borrowing initiatives for land conservation, broadband and workforce development fell short.

Mills signed a $7.98 billion two-year budget in late June that increases spending by 11%. The Democratic governor reduced the fiscal plan slightly from her original $8.04 billion proposal after Republicans raised concerns about the fiscal plan being “unsustainable” because of not accounting for revenue scenarios that would occur under a potential recession.

“If these bonds needed funding why were they not included in an $8 billion budget,” Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, asked during Monday’s legislative session. “To spend every penny of available money now … and then ask to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars on top of it is reckless and irresponsible.”

Mills had already slimmed the bond package to $163 million from $239 million in an effort to win Republican support after it failed to advance before the legislature adjourned for the summer. Republicans urged separate votes on the bonding proposals rather than lumping together all of the spending items.

"There is no immediate, compelling reason to act on these bonds until we know what kind of fiscal challenges we will face when we meet again in January," Maine Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, said in a statement. "In fact, while we wait to make a more informed decision, interest rates are likely to go down, reducing the costs of these bonds by the time we consider them."

he package had pitched $20 million of borrowing to replenish the Land for Maine’s Future program over two years. Mills also urged a $23 million bond initiative to borrow $15 million for broadband expansion along with $8 million for workforce development and modernizing National Guard facilities. An additional $15 million bond rejected by Republican lawmakers was geared toward funding pollution cleanup and energy efficiency loans.

“I believe we arrived at a practical, responsible compromise that should have garnered bipartisan support,” Mills said in a statement Tuesday. “As a result of Republicans’ unwillingness to compromise, Maine people will not have the opportunity this November to vote for broadband in rural areas, for land and waterfront conservation, or for equipment to help our young people gain work in the trades.”

In November, Maine voters approved four bond proposals totaling $200 million. They have approved all but one bond proposal since 2011 totaling just over $1.1 billion. The adopted 2020-2021 budget anticipates as much as $300 million of bonding over the two years.

“We aim to go to market as soon as practicable and prudent with this new bond package, assuming voter ratification," Maine State Treasurer Henry Beck said in a statement. "Our revenues and the market and our needs suggested a larger bond package, but this is the legislative result."

Moody's Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings both affirmed Maine's general obligation bonds in May at Aa2 and AA, respectively, with stable outlooks.

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