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Maine committee approves state borrowing package

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- A Maine legislative panel approved a state borrowing package proposal for roads projects and education on Thursday, sending the proposal to the full Legislature before it goes to voters for final approval.

The Appropriations Committee unanimously passed the five-bill, $149.5 million bond proposal, putting it on track to be placed on the November ballot.

"This bond package is very important in terms of job creation, in terms of moving our economy forward in the state," said Democratic Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston, House chair of the committee. "We're pleased that we were able to take this action today in a bipartisan way," she added.

The proposal, which Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic leaders agreed to last week, includes $76 million for highways and bridges and $24 million for waterfront and rail projects.

It now heads to the full Legislature which returns next week for a special session. It needs two-thirds majority support for approval, but lawmakers have said they are confident it will pass.

"I look forward to this package being approved by the full Legislature next week and by Maine voters this November so construction crews can quickly get to work and people and goods can continue to move safety and swiftly in and out of our state," LePage said in a statement.

The package also includes $15.5 million for the University of Maine system, which would fund projects like upgrading science and nursing labs and renovating facilities. The Maine Community College system would also receive $15.5 million for new buildings and to expand classrooms.

The bond package has been a source of tension at the Capitol since lawmakers adjourned last month. Democrats had intended to return next month to vote out a proposal for the June ballot, saying they needed time to develop a comprehensive bond package.

But LePage and GOP lawmakers forced Democrats to the negotiating table sooner, arguing that a November vote was needed so that job-creating construction projects can get started.