The $60 million package was approved by a wide margin.

AUGUSTA – A $60 million bond issue, pitched by Gov. John Baldacci as an economic stimulus package that will create thousands of jobs, was approved by voters weighing in on the only question on Maine’s statewide ballot Tuesday.

With votes counted in 65 percent of Maine’s precincts, the proposal was winning 61 percent to 39 percent. The results, which remained consistent as the counting continued into the night, are unofficial.

Baldacci proposed the bond issue and the Legislature ordered it sent out for a spring referendum. The governor said spring balloting was chosen to position Maine to receive millions of dollars in matching funds before the federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Passage was “a smart move by the people,” Baldacci said after the yes side was declared the winner. Tuesday’s approval bolsters economic development actions already taken by the Legislature, the governor added.

“The citizens have now joined in that fight and recognize that Maine isn’t going to sit back and take any more bad news from any more layoffs or plant closings. They’re going to try to stimulate job growth and opportunity in our state,” Baldacci said.

Citing estimates by the State Planning Office, Baldacci said 4,000 full- and part-time jobs would be created through projects financed with the bonds.

Some towns and cities consolidated their polling places in anticipation of a light turnout in the unusual off-cycle voting, and checks across the state seemed to bear out their predictions.

About 50 Some communities, including Augusta, Bangor and Brunswick, had local issues or special elections on their ballots as well.

Political advertising in the weeks leading up to the voting was limited to supporters’ $240,000 mail and media campaign. There was no visible campaign by opponents to the bond issue proposal, which was initially proposed by Gov. John Baldacci and sent out for a spring vote by the Legislature.

Barely into his first year as governor, Democrat Baldacci advanced the long-term borrowing package in hopes of helping the state recover from the sluggish economy by generating business activity and jobs.

The bond package would raise $20 million for a biomedical research fund and $17 million for other research and development initiatives. An affordable housing component totals $8 million, and $6 million is earmarked for a municipal investment trust fund.

Rounding out the package is $4 million for marine research, $3 million for agriculture and $2 million for applied technology development centers in Fairfield, Greenville, Rumford and South Portland.

The bonds would draw more than $134 million in federal and private matching money, according to estimates. Estimated interest payments over a 10-year period would be around $15 million.

The referendum followed word from three bond rating agencies that Maine’s ratings are not being downgraded. The Baldacci administration welcomed the news, saying it will translate into savings in interest obligations for taxpayers.

A drop in ratings could cost $150,000 in added interest payments for a $50 million bond issue over 10 years, according to a study cited by state Treasurer Dale McCormick.

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AP-ES-06-10-03 2320EDT

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