AUGUSTA (AP) – Both parties’ legislative leaders said Thursday they are making progress toward middle ground on a bond issue proposal that’s on the agenda for next month’s special session.

During a meeting Wednesday between House and Senate leaders from both parties, Democrats agreed to work up a new figure to put them closer to the GOP’s bottom line on the borrowing package.

“We said we would put something together that puts us in the middle,” said House Speaker Patrick Colwell, D-Gardiner. “We’re going to try to meet them in the middle.”

Republican leaders said they will wait and see what the Democrats come up with before saying if they’re willing to budge, and if so, how much.

“We’re willing to go higher if it makes sense to us,” said House Minority Leader Joe Bruno of Raymond. “But we’re not willing to go a lot higher, I can tell you that.”

Democrats have been pushing for a three-part borrowing package totaling $93.8 million, while Republicans wanted to hold the line at $83.8 million. Gov. John Baldacci was in between at around $90 million.

The three major components: transportation, environment and education.

The partisan leaders decided to meet on Wednesday to see if they could get closer to an agreement before the Appropriations Committee takes up the matter. The panel is expected to meet Aug. 14.

“It was a very positive meeting,” Colwell said.

“I think we’re getting there,” Bruno said.

Senate Minority Leader Paul Davis of Sangerville said Republicans strongly support the highway borrowing and would like to see even more bonds – perhaps $62-$63 million – in the package. The Democratic-backed highway package totals $58.3 million.

Republicans also want put some of the environmental issues aside until next year, although Davis said portions addressing drinking water projects should move ahead now.

Republicans are also unconvinced that the $5 million component addressing capital improvements in state and municipal parks is worthy of going forward now, said Bruno.

“Our responsibility as legislators is to make sure we come up with a very frugal package,” Bruno said.

If the Legislature agrees on a bond package by a two-thirds majority vote at its Aug. 21 special session, voters will decide in November whether to authorize the bonds.

The borrowing proposal is being discussed less than two months after voters approved a $60 million bond package designed to give Maine an economic jolt just as the construction season was getting started.

In addition to a bond package, lawmakers on Aug. 21 are expected to consider a referendum proposal to compete with a question on the Nov. 4 fourth ballot calling for the state to increase school funding.

AP-ES-07-31-03 1638EDT

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