AUGUSTA —  The Democratic-controlled Legislature finished their business for the session early Wednesday, but a bitter partisan battle over borrowing money to fix the state’s roads and bridges remained heated.

Lawmakers adjourned after midnight following a long day of votes on more than 30 bills vetoed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has rejected more bills this session than any other recent Maine governor.

But in the session’s final hours, the debate shifted as the GOP minority attempted to force a vote on a $100 million transportation borrowing package proposed by LePage in March before the Legislature adjourned for the summer.

Democrats called it an eleventh-hour political stunt by Republicans and LePage, who they say has held hundreds of millions of dollars of bonds hostage for more than two years. But Republicans say that delaying the consideration of LePage’s roads bond is putting important and job-creating construction projects at risk.

“You’re talking about a significant number of projects scheduled to be done that may not be able to be done in a timely fashion,” House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport said Wednesday. “The impact in local communities is significant. It’s about jobs.”

Democrats said they didn’t want to rush forward with the governor’s proposal, which includes $46 million for high-priority highways, $5 million for secondary roads, $30 million bridges and $19 million for things like ports and railroads.

Instead, lawmakers say they’ll return sometime this fall to consider a handful of bonds, including LePage’s roads bond, as well as those for universities, natural resources and research and development.

House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick called the Republican effort Tuesday night “nothing more than political theater.”

“Republicans stood by the sidelines and were complicit with the governor as he sat on the over 100 million in bonds, much of which were transportation projects,” he said Wednesday.

LePage had said wouldn’t release about $105 million — including $51 million for highways and roads— in already voter-approved bonds until lawmakers agreed to a plan to pay back the state’s hospitals for unpaid Medicaid services. After signing the hospital debt bill last month, LePage recently directed the state treasurer to prepare the bonds for release.

Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note said the Department of Transportation has already accounted for LePage’s $100 million bond in planning constructing projects for 2014 and 2015. That means that if no bond is approved by the Legislature, the transportation department will have to cut its proposed plans.

“(The department) cannot plan based on a wish list; they have to have secured funding,” LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said. “It’s unfortunate that again things are being delayed by Democrats purposefully to go against the governor,” she said.

Van Note said that he is confident lawmakers will approve a transportation bond in time for the 2014 construction season. If the $100 million bond were on the November ballot and passed, that would likely give the department enough time to plan its projects.

Democrats have not yet committed to exactly when they will return this fall. But they say they hope to have a comprehensive bond package approved by the Legislature and on the ballot by November or June.

“We need to invest in transportation — roads and bridges — but we also need to invest in things that we know will move our economy forward” like classrooms and research and development, Eves said.


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