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August 21, 2019

Revised state bond proposal focuses on infrastructure, economic development

Photo / Maureen Milliken Gov. Janet Mills' $163 million proposed bond package, which will be considered by the Legislature next week, includes $105 million for roads, bridges and other transportation infrastracture.

The Legislature will reconvene Monday in a special session to consider a $163 million bond proposal that will address "some of Maine's most pressing issues," according to Gov. Janet Mills.

Mills called for the session to consider transportation, infrastructure, economic development, environmental protection and land conservation bonds that weren't acted on during the regular session, which ended June 20.

The bond package can be financed "at extremely low costs," according to state Treasurer Henry Beck. Whatever legislators decide will go before voters in November.

Mill's proposal, revised from a $239 million package the Legislature didn't act on before the session adjourned, tackles issues such as the state’s aging infrastructure, a lack of rural internet service, the need for improved pollution control, and land conservation through the Lands for Maine’s Future program, according to a news release from Mills' office.

Mills called the proposal "a fair compromise that should garner bipartisan support."

“With thousands of households and small businesses struggling with poor internet, with Mainers navigating aging roads and bridges, and with the future of Maine’s farm lands and working waterfronts at risk, I am calling a special session to consider bonds that address these issues head-on,” Mills said.

Beck said historically low interest rates and high demand for municipal bonds put Maine, as a seller, in a strong position to finance projects.

Overall, the two-year 2020-21 $8 billion budget passed by the Legislature in June anticipates as much as $300 million worth of bonding. Legislators would have to approve the package by at least two-thirds by Aug. 30 for the bonds to be included on the November ballot.

Mills' proposed package includes:

Transportation: $105 million to upgrade roads, bridges, ports, rail and air transportation and to repair culverts and restore a commercial fishing wharf. Transportation bonding will draw an estimated $137 million in matching federal and other additional funds.

Infrastructure and economic development: $15 million to expand high speed internet access in rural Maine, which will draw at least a 3-to-1 match in federal and private funding; $4 million for capital equipment for career and technical education centers; $4 million to restore and modernize National Guard facilities across the state with an expected 50-50 match.

Environmental protection and energy efficiency: $5 million to improve wastewater infrastructure at the municipal level to prevent and control pollution, drawing down 150% or more in matching funds; $5 million to support remediation efforts through the Department of Environmental Protection at uncontrolled hazardous sites across the state; $5 million for the Heating Fuels Efficiency and Weatherization Fund to provide low-interest loans for energy efficiency projects, including heat pumps for residential homeowners.

Land conservation: $20 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program to be dispersed over two years to preserve far land, working waterfronts and other natural resources. The program has not been funded in eight years, but draws significant matching funds and historically has enjoyed overwhelming support at the polls, Mills said.

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