Transportation, other bonds await Maine voters
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine voters will see something on the Nov. 6 ballot they haven't seen in two years: bond issues.
Four borrowing proposals adding up to nearly $76 million will appear just below the public question that's drawn the most attention leading up to the election, same-sex marriage.
Two-thirds of the total borrowing the state seeks is for highways, bridges and other transportation projects. The rest is for public higher education, clean water projects and land conservation.
Bonds have been absent from statewide ballots since June 2010. Since then, elected officials in Augusta have expressed wariness for adding onto state debt. Gov. Paul LePage discouraged further borrowing and lawmakers sent no bonds to voters last year.
But the Legislature reconsidered this year and approved five bond issues adding up to $95.7 million, only to have the governor veto one of them, a $20 million bond for research and development.
In the order in which the remaining bond proposals will appear on the ballot, they include:
—$11.3 million for capital improvements for the University of Maine System, community college system and Maine Maritime Academy. It includes money for an animal diagnostic laboratory and a plant diagnostic and insect identification laboratory in the state university system and improved machine tool technology in the community colleges.
—$5 million to purchase land and conservation easements that will provide water access, outdoor recreation, wildlife and fish habitat, farmland and working waterfront preservation.
—$51.5 million for transportation projects. The bulk of the money is for improvements to Maine's highways and bridges, with the rest going to projects including shipping port upgrades at Searsport and Eastport, transit buses, airports and expansion and improvement of medical evacuation helicopter facilities.
—$7.9 million to replenish the revolving loan funds for public drinking water systems and for wastewater treatment facilities.
Campaigning on the bonds has been all but invisible, leaving it to voters to unravel the pluses and minuses.
"My job is not to interject myself in ballot initiatives or campaigns. However, it is my job to be very clear to the voters and the hardworking people of Maine that when they pass bonds, they are borrowing money. These are loans that must be repaid," Republican state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, who has taken a highly cautious stance with regard to state borrowing, said recently on a George Hale-Ric Tyler radio program.
His office says the $75.7 million in bonds plus $18.7 million in interest at rate of 4.5 percent over the 10-year life of the bonds will bring the total cost of borrowing to $94.4 million.
The ballot questions themselves put a different spin on the matter. Taken together, the $76 million in borrowing would draw down $150 million in federal, private and other matching grants, according to language on the proposals.
Legislative Democrats have been highly supportive of a bond package, saying it will generate jobs and noting that state debt service is declining.
"If we don't make these public investments now, we will be missing an opportunity to create jobs," Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said after the Legislature approved the bond package.
As of June 30, the state owed $472 million for general obligation bonds, with nearly $41 million in authorized but unissued bonds.
Voters' guide to referendums: http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/2012/CITIZENS%20GUIDE.pdf