Pressure Builds For Maine Politicians To Get Bond Proposals To The Voters In November

Aug 15, 2019

Talks are underway in Augusta about a possible special session of the legislature in the coming weeks. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and members of her cabinet are hoping to get multiple bond proposals to the voters in November, and they are negotiating with legislative leaders over how to make that happen.

Mills is on vacation, but her office confirms that she has been making phone calls seeking legislative support for a package of bonds. Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note, who has also been working the phones, says the bond funding is needed to draw down federal funds. He also warns that a significant cutback in planned road and bridge repairs for next spring and summer, unless a bond question gets on the ballot.

“On an average year we would normally put out to bid to the contractors in the ballpark of $350 million worth of advertised work,” says Van Note. “That could easily be cut in half, perhaps even more, if there is no bond in November. “

Several advocacy groups are also lobbying for a special session. Maria Fuentes with the Maine Better Transportation Association says the transportation bond would pay for more than roads and bridges , providing needed matching funds for port and airport improvements. Fuentes says the political reality is that the two parties need to compromise on bonds, as they have in the past.

“We’ve been trying to reach out to legislators and leadership and the Governor's office with the hope they will come up with some sort of compromise,” Fuentes says.

Republican leaders say talks are underway, but that they are taking a position that any bond proposals be voted on separately, and not as part of one big package. Rep. Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford, the House GOP floor leader, says she has polled her caucus and found consistent support for the Transportation bond.

“There may be individual support among my caucus, but there is nothing ranging in support like there is for transportation,” Dillingham says.

Dillingham says whether there are enough Republican votes to approve other bond proposals will be up to individual members. She says some have expressed support for measures to fund the Land For Maine’s Future program, investment in broadband and workforce development, but are being cautious to keep overall borrowing in check. Sen. Jeff Timberlake of Turner, the assistant GOP Senate leader, says Republicans in both the House and Senate agree that the bonds must be voted on separately.

“There are some members that support LMF, there’s some that support broadband, some that don’t and those that don’t want to have to go on record supporting something they don’t necessarily support,” says Timberlake. “There is some good conversation going on.”

No democratic leaders were available to comment on the negotiations, but privately confirmed that talks are underway involving both parties and Governor Mills. DOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note, who has been involved in transportation bond discussions for more than twenty years, says he is optimistic that an agreement can be worked out.

“Conversations are ongoing to narrow down the kinds of things that are going to be voted on, not just transportation, it’s going to be broader than that. It always is,” Van Note says.

If lawmakers are going to propose any bonds, they need to act his month in order to have enough time to print the ballots. There are also federal requirements that ballots be available to military members and other voters living overseas at least 45 days before the election.

Originally published Aug. 14, 2019 at 4:59 p.m. ET.