Governor Janet Mills issued a proclamation Monday calling the legislature back to the State House for a special legislative session to consider her revised bond package. The special session is scheduled for Monday, August 26 at 10 a.m.
According to the governor’s press release, the legislature will consider four separate bond bills for transportation, broadband, environmental protection and land conservation that will total $163 million — $76 million less than the bond package she originally proposed in June.
The original bond package cost $239 million and was a single bill that addressed infrastructure, broadband, economic development, climate change and land conservation. At the time, House Republicans wanted to consider the transportation bond as a separate proposal whereas Democrats wanted to keep the four bond questions in a single bill.
Since neither side would budge, the legislature failed to pass a bond package in the first session.
In a change of pace, the governor decided to introduce each bond separately, giving lawmakers the ability to advance a bipartisan deal on infrastructure when they return. According to Bruce Van Note, Maine’s Commissioner of Transportation, the $105 million transportation bond will be necessary to continue the highway repair program and called it “mission-critical.” Lawmakers mostly agree on this transportation funding, however the other bonds have a less certain future.
Lawmakers are now in a unique position where they can support the infrastructure bond while opposing the other bonds that will be considered. Conservatives have been hamstrung the entire legislative session because regular bills need a simple majority from each legislative body, however bonds are supposed to have the support of two-thirds of the legislature to be sent to the voters. In addition to infrastructure, the revised borrowing plan includes:
- $20 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program
- $15 million for broadband investments
- $10 million for environmental protection
- $5 million for energy efficiency measures
- $4 million for capital equipment for career and technical education centers.
- $4 million to modernize National Guard facilities
Bonds are typically used to make investments that will last over the life of the bond and into the future. Instead of funding several pet projects through bonding, the governor and legislature could have paid for all of it through $345 million in additional revenue that is projected to be collected over the biennium. In other words, the legislature (and Governor Mills) could have funded all of the items that will be considered in the special session if they chose to be more fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars during budget negotiations.
Since that ship has sailed, lawmakers face a different question: Are these bonds necessary for government to function and properly provide for the general welfare of Maine citizens?
Most of the proposed borrowing is not nearly pressing enough for the state to take on this new debt, particularly when these issues could have been addressed in the recent budget agreement. In addition, general fund revenue is projected to grow by $611 million by the 2022-23 budget cycle. Therefore, it would be more responsible for lawmakers to consider these proposals as regular bills when the 130th Maine Legislature convenes.
Put simply, it would be best for lawmakers to reject this borrowing and be more responsible with taxpayer dollars during budget negotiations.