April 04, 2020

$60M transportation bond stalls in the Maine House

AUGUSTA – The fate of a $60 million transportation bond remained in legislative limbo Wednesday after Republican and Democratic leaders granted a last-minute request for a reconsideration vote.

Earlier Wednesday, the House rejected by a 76-67 vote a motion to accept an $18 million supplemental transportation budget with the bonding provision attached. Some members had been expecting to debate the bill, but an unintentional oversight by Rep. Boyd Marley, D-Portland, resulted in LD 1974 moving forward for a vote before he could ask to speak on the measure.

“We’re going to go back to the issue” today, said House Democratic leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland. “Rep. Marley felt as though he arrived too late for the discussion and felt that he did not have the choreographed presentation that he wanted in terms of making his pitch for bonds. Some Republicans also felt there was going to be a stronger debate and therefore wound up voting against it, figuring (supporters of the bond) had given up.”

Marley, who serves as the House chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he was waiting for the House chamber to fill up so he could determine if he would have the votes to approve the bonds.

“And then the vote opened so there was sort of a miscommunication there which I take full responsibility for,” he said.

Legislative leaders have been at odds with 10 of the 13 members of the Transportation Committee ever since the panel endorsed the bonding proposal earlier this month. At issue is an agreement between Republican and Democratic leaders to give two-thirds approval to a $158 million supplemental budget in March on the condition there would be no borrowing in the current session. During those budget negotiations, Republicans refused to back a proposal by Gov. John Baldacci to put a $30 million general obligation bond before voters to fatten the depleted transportation budget. Instead, Republicans persuaded Democrats to support transferring $15 million from budget surplus funds for transportation projects.

Republican and Democratic members of the Transportation Committee maintained they were left out of those discussions by leadership and would never have agreed to a “no borrowing pledge” knowing the condition of the state’s roads and highways. Asserting their position in a vote earlier this month, the overwhelming majority of the committee approved its supplemental budget and then included provisions for a $60 million GARVEE bond within the bill to fund transportation projects contingent on voter approval in a statewide November referendum question. GARVEE – which stands for Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle – bonds are issued in anticipation of expected federal transportation funds and do not require two-thirds approval in the House and Senate.

But because the transportation supplemental budget includes projects that need to get under way within the next 60 days, the bill carries an emergency provision requiring a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to allow it to become law after being signed by the governor. House Speaker John Richardson, D-Brunswick, said Wednesday the bonds and the transportation budget could be passed with a majority vote, but that transportation officials were banking on the bill becoming law this month for project planning. A simple majority vote would only allow the bill to take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

Republican leaders, who strongly oppose further borrowing, were able to hold all but two of their members in Wednesday initial vote.

Rep. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley and a member of the Transportation Committee who voted against the bonds, said he couldn’t understand why so many Democrats think it’s a good idea.

“I would think people would have been convinced to kill this idea when they found out that we would have to pay $25 million interest on these bonds,” he said. “We need to fix our roads – we don’t need to make interest payments.”

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