AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci, after advancing and winning passage of a belt-tightening biennial budget, is eyeing a significant expansion of state borrowing and hoping state lawmakers will render a verdict on it as soon as possible.

“I can’t allow the state to be in a position to just sit here and not take action,” Baldacci told reporters Wednesday at a news conference in his State House office.

Besides a $75 million transportation bond and a $70 million borrowing package for a variety of economic development initiatives, Baldacci also has on the table nearly $17 million in environmental projects to be financed over the long term.

In addition, voters would be asked to authorize another bond issue of more than $13 million for higher education facilities, state parks, the state courts and what are described as cultural improvements. All told, the governor’s bond package would exceed $175 million.

Approval of that level of borrowing would be the highest in a legislative session in at least two decades, according to legislative analysts.

Apart from the governor’s package, other bond proposals up for legislative hearing beginning Thursday total more than $322 million.

Majorities of two-thirds in both the House and Senate would be required to send any bond proposal to voters.

Baldacci said he would like expedite ordinary procedure and put two of the four pieces he has proposed – the $70 million economic development bond and the $13.3 million borrowing for the University of Maine System, the fledgling community college system, state parks, the courts and local arts and cultural projects – before state voters in June.

Gubernatorial chief of staff Jane Lincoln said that would require legislative action next week.

“I’m prepared to work with the Legislature,” Baldacci said, casting his borrowing proposals as a way to stimulate the state’s economy.

The other two Baldacci borrowing proposals – $75 million for highway and bridge improvements and other transportation projects and $16.8 million for water pollution control facilities and other environmental measures – would go on November ballots under the governor’s plan.

Baldacci’s proposals are scheduled to be presented to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee on Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Sharon Treat, D-Farmingdale, said rank-and-file lawmakers as well as legislative leaders would want to take a general overview of proposed borrowing.

“There’s always a lot of negotiation between Democrats and Republicans on the size of the bond package,” she said. “I think there’ll be a lot of talking about what goes into this.”

Republican Rep. Sawin Millett of Waterford said in considering the Baldacci package he would be most comfortable trying to keep new borrowing “close to, if not at or below” the level of debt being retired now.

The state treasurer’s office – counting both General Fund and Highway Fund – pegs that at about $85 million annually.

Millett also said the potential stimulative impact of accelerated bonding should be analyzed.

“There’s got to be a sense of both timing urgency and real priming-of-the-pump effect,” he said.

Treat said lawmakers would have to balance demands for financing with fiscal prudence.

“It’s partly what are the needs, but also what are the limits,” she said.

AP-ES-04-02-03 1531EST



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