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Maine lawmakers OK $149.5M education, roads bonds

Alanna Durkin, Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- A $149.5 million state borrowing plan for roads and education facilities is one step closer to the November ballot following lawmakers' approval of the bond package during a special legislative session on Thursday.

The five-bill bond package proposal easily reached the two-thirds majority in both chambers necessary for approval. The bills now head to Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who's expected to sign them, putting to rest a partisan fight over a borrowing proposal in Augusta that has been brewing since lawmakers adjourned last month.

LePage said he was "pleased" to be able to send the bonds to voters in November.

"Infrastructure projects create good-paying jobs in the construction industry, and our roads, bridges and ports are important economic drivers that help attract and retain jobs," he said in a statement. "We are improving our transportation network, and we are putting Mainers back to work."

Lawmakers applauded their ability to reach bi-partisan agreement on the proposal, which was recently hammered out by LePage and Democratic leaders.

"Hopefully this bipartisan compromise sets a new tone for relations at the state House," House Republican Leader Ken Fredette, of Newport, said in a statement.

The package includes $75 million for roads and bridges and $24 million for rail and infrastructure projects. It also puts $14 million toward fixing the state's armories, which many lawmakers said are in desperate need of repair.

LePage and Democrats had clashed over the timing of the bonds prior to reaching a deal earlier this month. Democrats had originally intended to return next month to vote out a proposal for the June ballot. But LePage and GOP lawmakers attacked Democrats for not taking action sooner, arguing that a November vote on the transportation bond was necessary for the Department of Transportation to move forward with construction project planning.

More than $35 million would go toward expanding and upgrading facilities at Maine's universities and community colleges, which education leaders have said are essential to meet growing demand. Maine's seven community colleges would get money to construct buildings, expand classrooms and renovate science labs.

Assistant House Democratic Leader Jeff McCabe, of Skowhegan, said investment in the state now is critical.

"Our state is in need of enormous investments statewide ... and there is no better time than now to make these investments," McCabe said.


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