Legislature to weigh $100 million in bonds for roadwork, senior housing

Good morning from Augusta, where the long-awaited final showdown on the $6.7 billion biennial budget is upon us.

Gov. Paul LePage last night made good on his promise to veto the budget, teeing the spending bill up for veto override votes in the House and Senate today. If lawmakers fail to override the veto, the state will almost certainly be thrust into shutdown.

But that’s not the only thing awaiting lawmakers who return to the State House after a week-long recess. They also have a mountain of vetoed bills to consider, several other bills that are not yet resolved and a $100 million bond package hashed out by the Appropriations Committee just yesterday (more on that later).

That’s a lot of work for one legislative day, but an equally compelling drama may unfold outside the State House’s doors.

Controversy continues to roil about Gov. Paul LePage’s use of discretionary state funding to pressure Good Will-Hinckley to fire Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, a political foe of the governor’s.

A rally to support lawmakers’ call for an investigation into potential wrongdoing by the governor is planned at noon today, outside the State House. If he so chooses, the governor will be able to see the rally from the window of his second-floor office.

Another gathering is scheduled earlier in the day, this one in support of the governor’s opposition to the budget.

In other words, there’s tons to watch in the State House today. Keep your eyes on bangordailynews.com for updates as the day progresses. And as always, click here to subscribe to receive the Daily Brief in your email inbox every day. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

$100 million bond package forwarded by Appropriations Committee

With the session already running late and very little appetite for borrowing in much of the Republican caucuses, lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee largely punted on bonds. They carried the vast majority of proposed borrowing into the next legislative session.

What was left was an $85 million infrastructure bond to cover the cost of maintenance and repairs to Maine’s weather- and time-beaten roads, highways and bridges and a $15 million bond to pay for new senior housing across the state.

The transportation bond is likely to sail through the Legislature with little debate. All four caucuses — Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate — indicated their support for infrastructure borrowing last week.

But the senior housing bond may have trouble winning the two-thirds support needed for passage. The bond is a priority of Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, who advocated for new senior housing in all 16 Maine counties last year as part of his Keep ME Home initiative, though the $15 million bond sought today is drastically scaled back from the $65 million he originally proposed.

In an interview last week, Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, seemed open to considering all bond proposals as long as the total package didn’t exceed $100 million. However, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, has said his caucus will chafe at any nontransportation borrowing.

If his members stick to that stance, the senior housing bond may very well be dead on arrival. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Veto watch

I’m going to level with you guys: I’m no longer sure how many vetoes the Legislature has on its docket. If Gov. Paul LePage hasn’t made good on his promise to veto all legislation, regardless of its sponsor or content, then he’s come darn close to it.

Lawmakers have at least 49 vetoed bills on their calendar today — that’s how many LePage sent to them on Friday and Monday alone. There are others too, from earlier veto sprees, but I couldn’t be sure the exact count.

Among the bills vetoed yesterday was the biennial budget, obviously. Other notably vetoed bills include:

  • LD 1080, the Highway Budget.
  • LD 557, An Act to Provide Reasonable Accommodations for School Attendance for Children Certified for the Medical Use of Marijuana.
  • LD 1090, a bill to create a Medicaid pilot program to reimburse for acupuncture treatment of substance abuse disorders.
  • LD 1112, which would require registered sex offenders from other states to register as sex offenders in Maine if they move here.

The governor has also debuted a new form veto letter. Previously, he used a form veto letter to nix bills sponsored by Democrats without commenting on the bill itself. Now, since he has pledged to veto bills from both parties, the letter has changed.

Fully half of the bills vetoed yesterday used the new form letter which, once again, leaves no room for comment on the merits or flaws of the bill itself.

Instead, LePage waxes about how awful lawmakers are, and how irresponsible their desire for bipartisanship is.

“Far too many legislators make solemn-sounding promises to voters who elect them, then sweep them aside as soon as they step foot into the exclusive, club-like atmosphere of the State House,” he writes. “Their giddy eagerness to get along with colleagues on both sides of the aisle swiftly supersedes their sworn duty to the people who sent them to Augusta.”

LePage then reiterates his belief that voters are not really represented by the Legislature; his outrage at lawmakers refusal to pass a constitutional amendment to eliminate the income tax; and his desire to make all legislation pass the two-thirds threshold of a veto override “to ensure the widest possible representation in Augusta.” — Mario Moretto, BDN.

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Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.