AUGUSTA – Legislative leaders opened a new round of discussions Thursday about the prospects for holding a special session this summer that could produce bipartisan agreement on new borrowing that would be put before Maine voters in November.
The talks were described as preliminary, with several participants who were interviewed declining to detail what range of borrowing was subject to negotiation.
“I think it’s safe to say probably the governor’s amount is the ceiling,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan, D-Portland.
In February, Baldacci outlined a proposed bond package worth $197 million, with major provisions including $50 million for land acquisition and conservation, nearly $28 million for highways and bridges, and $22 million for a statewide biomedical research and development fund.
Since then, consideration of bond targets has been put on the back burner at the State House – partly because minority Republicans whose votes would be needed for passage have wanted to retain some political leverage, and partly because of an overshadowing dispute about nonvoter-approved revenue bonding that eventually was scrubbed from the new state budget.
“I’m convinced that there will be a bond package negotiated,” said Assistant House Minority leader Josh Tardy, R-Newport.
The Legislature, which technically adjourned the regular 2005 session at the end of March, finished up an ensuing special session two weekends ago without getting to the question of bonds. Partisan disagreements over the issue hamstrung the previous Legislature.
Brennan described Thursday’s gathering of ranking House and Senate Democrats as “a good meeting.”
“It was just preliminary discussions. I think things went well,” he said.
When lawmakers last adjourned, there were suggestions that a new special session also would involve renewed consideration of tax overhaul legislation that had been brought forth by the chairmen and Democrat-dominated majority of the Taxation Committee.
Whatever level of enthusiasm for broad tax system changes has developed in the House does not seem to have been matched in the Senate, and whether the issue would come up at a new special session remains unclear.
Tardy, responding to a reporter’s question, said Thursday, “I think what’s being discussed is a single-issue special session” focused on bonds.
House and Senate leaders, who met privately Thursday in the office of House Speaker John Richardson, are scheduled to meet again next week. The timing for a potential new special session has not been fixed publicly.