AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine lawmakers had more to say against a $60 million borrowing proposal than for it during debates that ended Wednesday evening, but they approved the economic development package anyway.

With two-thirds votes of approval in both the House and Senate, the bond issue goes to voters this June.

The bond package includes borrowing for research and development initiatives, affordable housing and an array of other projects designed to jump start Maine’s sluggish economy and spin off new jobs.

The package came with a strong, 12-1 endorsement from the Appropriations Committee, but before final votes in the House and Senate several speakers expressed reservations.

Republican Rep. Peter Mills of Cornville said the state is borrowing too much money, especially while Maine’s future revenue picture remains cloudy.

“We are slipping away from fiscal responsibility in a way I find intolerable,” Mills told representatives before their 94-38 vote to send the bond issue to voters.

In the Senate, where the final tally was 24-9, Democrats Christopher Hall of Bristol and Neria Douglass of Auburn both said they were concerned because the bond issue is not attached to a larger economic development strategy for the state.

And Sen. Richard Bennett, R-Norway, claimed it violated the state Constitution because it pays for current expenditures, which he did not specify.

Appropriations Committee members stood to defend the package. Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, described it as “carefully crafted and narrowly focused.”

“No one claims this is the perfect answer to all of our economic problems. It’s not,” said Sen. Mary Cathcart, D-Orono, Senate chair of Appropriations.

But Cathcart said the spending will provide an early start to projects that will boost the economy while drawing down matching funds.

The bond issue includes $20 million for a biomedical research fund, $17 million more for other research and development initiatives, $8 million for affordable housing, and $6 million going to a municipal investment trust fund.

A total of $4 million would go toward marine research, $3 million toward agriculture and $2 million for applied technology development centers in South Portland, Fairfield, Rumford and Greenville.

The Legislature also gave final approval to a supplemental budget plan for the current fiscal year that will offset a $17 million revenue shortfall and cover more than $5 million in unanticipated prison costs.

AP-ES-04-16-03 2010EDT



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