Lawmakers return to Augusta today for what could be an anticlimactic finish to months of controversy around state borrowing. On the docket are a total of six bills, including five bond proposals and a measure designed to fix a troubling situation at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.
Senate President Justin Alfond and other Democratic leaders had planned to wait until January to consider the spending proposals until the final days of the regular session in July. That’s when mostly fiscally conservative Republicans found themselves in the relatively unique position of urging more state borrowing, specifically $100 million for transportation infrastructure. Republicans have kept the pressure on Democrats in the weeks since, resulting in bipartisan accord and Gov. Paul LePage calling Thursday’s special session.
LePage and legislative leaders say they have reached agreement on the bond proposals, which total nearly $150 million. Aside from the $100 million in transportation money, lawmakers are expected to approve $35.5 million for upgrades at every campus in the University of Maine Maine and Maine Community College Systems, as well as Maine Maritime Academy, plus $14 million for maintenance and renovations at Maine National Guard armories.
The $150 million agreement includes a fraction of the more than $1 billion in borrowing proposals offered by lawmakers earlier this year. It also does not include a $100 million revenue bond floated by LePage earlier this year for a large-scale renovation of the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. That bond would have been paid down by systematic savings created by the renovations, as opposed to general obligation bonds, which the state must pay for out of the General Fund.
Though the bond proposals were expected to slide through — at least until Maine voters see them on the ballot in November — the effort to expand a mental health unit at the Maine State Prison in Warren may require more work. Lawmakers have been haggling about how to deal with “forensic” patients, most of whom are receiving treatment after being found not criminally responsible because of mental defects by the judicial system. A bill proposed by the LePage administration through Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, would alter how those patients are handled, including expanding the mental health unit at the state prison in order to ease overcrowding at Riverview.
However, members of the Appropriations Committee were working on an amendment to LD 1515 Thursday morning, which could mean there will be either bipartisan support for the measure or a fierce debate when the bill hits the House and Senate later in the day.