Around the Region

Local legislators have mixed views on bond package

Staff Report

    AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature goes back to work for one day on Thursday, Aug. 29 to take action on a $149.5 million bond issue, a compromise that was reached by the leaders of both parties earlier this month.

    “What we have is the best of both worlds — a bill that is bipartisan enough to garner the needed votes in the legislature while also meeting the needs of Maine’s economy,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport in a prepared statement. “I am especially happy that the bond package is affordable, targeted, split into different bills to allow separate votes, and will go to the voters in time for the spring 2014 construction season.” 
    The Appropriations Committee voted unanimously on Aug. 22 to forward the bill to the legislature; and if approved, voters will make a final decision on the bonds in November.
    The bill (L.D. 1095) is an amended version of Gov. Paul LePage’s transportation bond proposal, according to the Maine House Republican office. It includes $76 million for highways and bridges, $24 million for port and rail improvements, $31 million for labs and facilities at Maine’s public universities and community colleges, $14 million for Maine’s National Guard armories, and $4.5 million for a new science facility at Maine Maritime Academy.
    Sen. Doug Thomas said he plans to vote for the package for several reasons. “We’ve reduced state debt during the last three years by much more than these bonds add up to,” Thomas said.
    Thomas said that there’s no question that roads need attention. “The repairs will pay for themselves in reduced transportation cost for business and reduced car repair bills for everyone,” said the Ripley lawmaker.
    He also said he’ll support the community college and MMA bonds. “They’re doing a great job and will give the state a great return on these dollars,” Thomas said. “Unless something changes, I intend to vote for most of the bonds. That may be a first for me.”
    Rep. Paul Davis said he’ll definitely vote for the transportation bonds and is leaning toward supporting the community college improvement bond. “Our roads are in bad shape, and it seems like the only way we’re going to get them fixed is through bonding,” said the Sangerville Republican. “I’ll probably vote for the community college bond because I feel that students are getting their money’s worth,” Davis said.
    But Davis said he is less enthusiastic about bonds for the UMaine system, MMA and the National Guard armories. “You have to draw the line somewhere,” Davis said.
    Rep. Peter Johnson of Greenville said that since both parties reached an agreement on the total package, he’ll vote for it. “While there are some aspects that I would change, I plan to support the compromise,” Johnson said.
    LePage also said last week that he’ll ask lawmakers to deal with problems at the Riverview Psychiatric Center which may be penalized by up to $20 million in federal funds for failure to meet certification standards.
    More than half of the 92 beds are occupied by patients who are considered dangerous, but aren’t incarcerated because they need mental health treatment. Federal regulators have cited the Augusta facility for overcrowding, understaffing and the use of restraints and stun guns by county corrections officers to restrain patients.
    LePage had proposed establishing a mental health ward at the state prison to alleviate some of the pressure at Riverview, but the bill was rejected by the Legislature during the recently-adjourned session.

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.