AUGUSTA (AP) – Legislative budget writers had barely cast their votes on Gov. John Baldacci’s seemingly doomed bond package Tuesday afternoon when House and Senate leaders unleashed a squall of don’t-blame-us statements.

Minority Republicans, who with one exception balked at Baldacci’s borrowing plan, were outnumbered three-to-one on the partisan press release front but got their rhetoric and rationale into an Associated Press e-mail inbox first.

The lone GOP message was delivered at 4:08 p.m., besting the arrival time of the first Democratic spin offering by 18 minutes.

“The proposed projects can wait until January,” House Minority Leader Joe Bruno, R-Raymond, said in a statement from his office.

“In the wake of the passage of Question 1 in June for which the state is committed to an additional $260 million in education funding, the looming $785 million structural gap, and the property tax cap referendum on the ballot in November the prudent action is to delay further borrowing until a more complete understanding of the state’s finances can be achieved,” Bruno said.

Rep. David Bowles of Sanford, the assistant House Republican leader added: “We need to look beyond the proposed projects and look at the state’s larger fiscal picture. This is not about land or bridges, it is about debt and the state’s ability to handle that debt.”

At 4:26 p.m., Democratic House Speaker Patrick Colwell of Gardiner weighed in.

“There isn’t an ounce of fat anywhere in this proposal. Every dollar is justified, and has a clear public purpose behind it. We need to get the economy moving, and providing thousands of new jobs should be the Legislature’s top priority,” Colwell said.

His statement was buttressed by remarks attributed to some of the Democrats on the Appropriations Committee who were joined by Republican Rep. Peter Mills of Cornville to form a 9-4 panel majority in favor of the Baldacci package.

Five minutes later, House Majority Leader John Richardson, D-Brunswick, entered the argumentative fray.

“I am very disappointed that once again House Republican leadership has put partisan politics above the needs of Maine’s citizens and economy,” Richardson said.

“This has been a silly and unfortunate waste of the Legislature’s time – this is at least the third time Democrats have adjusted the bond package to meet Republican demands, only to have Republicans turn around and withhold their support from any bond package. It would seem this was never about money for the Republicans, it was about power,” Richardson’s statement said.

Lagging electronically was Democratic Senate President Beverly Daggett of Augusta although, to be fair, her comments for immediate release were hand-delivered in advance of being dispatched computer-to-computer.

“The inability of the GOP to move this package essentially deprives the citizens of their opportunity to vote on this package. It is very disappointing indeed,” Daggett said.

Baldacci’s proposal – scaled back from earlier plans – was designed to raise $20 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program, $9 million for transportation projects and $11 million for environmental initiatives.

“Unless the Republican leadership asks for reconsideration, … then I don’t see us holding a special session,” Baldacci told reporters following the committee’s straw vote Tuesday.

AP-ES-08-18-04 1023EDT

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