LePage stalls borrowing package; Democratic leader says tactic puts ‘petty demands’ before public interest

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AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage has stalled the sale of voter-approved bonds as a dispute intensifies between the governor and Legislature over state borrowing and a package of new spending bills.

LePage’s spokesman, Peter Steele said in a statement Monday that LePage was concerned over “11th-hour legislative spending” and was asking Maine’s State Treasurer Terry Hayes for additional time to consider signing off on about a $117 million borrowing package meant to pay for a variety of projects including $80 million of highway projects currently underway.

“For the time being, state government will use existing resources to fund key priorities, such as maintaining and improving our infrastructure,” Steele wrote in a statement to the media. “The Governor will continue to monitor excessive legislative spending with Maine’s bottom line and the best interest of taxpayers in mind.”

The stall quickly drew criticism from House Speakers Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who said LePage’s action was putting thousands of jobs at risk because the bonds are needed to pay for infrasructure improvements.

“It is irresponsible and incomprehensible,” Gideon said in a prepared statement. “By imperiling $117 million dollars worth of state borrowing unless his petty demands are met, the governor has proven once again that he is more than willing to put Maine people, Maine businesses and Maine’s economy at risk.”

Gideon urged LePage to reverse course.

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Beyond highway projects, other borrowing measures already approved by Maine voters include: $8 million for port, harbor and marine transportation upgrades and $25 million for commercialization, research and development for emerging industries.

Lawmakers are still wrangling over another package of bonding proposals including more than $100 million for highways, bridges and ports that would fund a portion of the Maine Department of Transportation’s ongoing work plan during the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Those bonds, if approved by the Legislature, would be sent to voters in November.

LePage has previously withheld his signature on voter-approved state borrowing in order to compel the Legislature to take other actions including in 2015 when he delayed dozens of Land for Maine’s Future conservation projects for months in an attempt to make the Legislature use revenue from state timber sales for low-income heating program, while increasing the timber harvest from state lands.

This story will be updated.

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