AUGUSTA (AP) – After their latest talks on how much new state borrowing Maine can use and afford, ranking members of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee said Friday there had been no breakthroughs but that there was no impasse either.

Democratic Sen. Mary Cathcart of Orono, the panel’s Senate chairman, said conference call consultations Thursday were amiable and touched on ways some borrowing items might be supplanted by direct spending and others might be deferred.

“I’d say there’s some progress but no agreement,” she said.

Republican Rep. Richard Rosen of Bucksport said panelists are hoping to sketch an approach for another level of discussions among legislative leaders and the Baldacci administration.

The full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to convene in the latter part of next week.

“We’re trying to kick around some ideas and ways to approach the Thursday meeting. … We’d like to be able to think that we could help develop a path before Thursday,” Rosen said.

In recent weeks, Democrats have been calling for a three-part borrowing package totaling nearly $94 million, while Republicans have proposed restricting new bonds to about $84 million.

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.

Stuck in minority status in both the Senate and House of Representatives, legislative Republicans can still exert muscle on issues like this that require super majorities.

Democratic Gov. John Baldacci said Friday the sums under discussion would keep state borrowing under a 5 percent threshold of debt to revenue. He said he viewed it as essential to invest in projects addressing “sewer and water and roads and higher education.”

Noting voter approval in June of 60 million in bonds, Baldacci suggested a November borrowing package was just as important.

“It needs to be made,” he said.

“Discussions are continuing,” he said. “The needs are there.”

Rosen said Republicans are interested in separating out proposals that demand action immediately and “items that don’t have sort of an emergency nature.”

Cathcart also said part of the recent talks had focused on bonding that could be proposed for next year.

AP-ES-08-08-03 1300EDT



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