$182M for military, colleges, transportation at stake on Maine ballot
The Bangor (Maine) Daily News
AUGUSTA, Maine — Proposals for borrowing that united Democrats and Republicans in the State House are laid out in five questions on the Nov. 5 ballot. They are the only items on the state ballot, representing requests for voter approval to borrow some $182 million for transportation projects, improvements to Maine Army National Guard facilities and a slew of projects at the state’s higher education institutions,
Gov. Paul LePage has used bonds as a bargaining chip throughout his administration, including delays in authorizing borrowing that voters approved as far back as 2009. LePage held fast on the notion that more borrowing would put too much pressure on the state’s already strapped finances. He eventually authorized the issuance of the previously approved bonds earlier this year after the Legislature agreed to his plan to pay hospitals hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid debt.
LePage and Republicans found themselves in the rare position of lobbying for more borrowing in the final few days of the legislative session when they launched a push for a $100 million transportation bond. Legislative leaders initially were content to wait until January, when lawmakers are set to reconvene, to deal with the bonds. Instead they convened a special session in August at which five previously negotiated bond questions breezed to bipartisan approval.
Question 1 on the ballot has to do with military expenditures and reads as follows:
“Do you favor a $14,000,000 bond issue to provide funds for the state’s share of maintenance, repair, capital improvement, modernization and energy efficiency projects for Maine Army National Guard readiness centers and support facilities and the purchase of land for training and to draw down federal matching funds?”
According to summaries prepared by the Secretary of State’s office, $11 million of that sum would would fund maintenance and repair, capital improvements and energy efficiency at Maine Army National Guard armories across Maine. The money would leverage up to $14 million in federal funds. State Treasurer Neria Douglass estimates that the 10-year note will cost approximately $3 million in interest.
Maj. Michael R. Steinbuchel, spokesman for the Maine National Guard, said the organization has 34 facilities and 215 buildings that average 50 years old. That means there are windows and roofs with little or no insulation and numerous heating systems that rely on 1950s technology. As an example, the armory in Houlton costs $60,000 a year to heat but the improvements funded by this bond would cut that to an estimated $20,000 a year.
The remaining $3 million would be used to purchase up to 6,000 acres for a machine gun training facility. Steinbuchel said troops and airmen are currently doing that training in either Vermont or Massachusetts.
This is the first time in more than 30 years that the Maine Army National Guard has been the subject of a statewide bond request. The organization currently supports about 2,100 soldiers and 1,100 airmen.