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Republicans’ Address: “Special Session” Work Should Have Been Completed in June

By Rep. Kathleen Dillingham

Since our last address, Governor Mills has called the Legislature back for a Special Session on Monday, August 26. 

The stated purpose is to consider bond proposals and two other pieces of legislation, one concerning the Franklin County Commissioners and another dealing with the Ocean School in Searsport.  

This one-day Special Session will cost Maine taxpayers approximately $42,000 more because it is above and beyond what was budgeted. 

We shouldn’t have to be called into Special Session at all. The Mills administration and Democrats know that our roads and bridges are in tough shape. We should have already passed a transportation bond and finished our work on bonding in June.

First, some history on how we got here.

The Mills administration and Democrats increased the state budget by 11%, spending 99.995% of all available state monies, including the surplus accumulated under the previous administration.

The Mills administration, along with Democrats, then proposed to borrow $239 million to fund projects that were not contained in the budget. Their omnibus borrowing plan lumped several different spending items together.

House Republicans repeatedly requested that the borrowing proposals be considered separately, as Maine voters would be asked to consider them at the polls this November.

Democrats refused and their $239 million request failed.

Because roads and bridges are in need of repair and several DOT projects were cancelled last spring, House Republicans then proposed passing a stand-alone $105 million dollar transportation bond in time for voters to consider this November.

The plan we supported authorized the issuance of bonds for projects such as reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways, bridges, and culverts and for facilities or equipment related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian trails.

Democrats rejected that plan and we adjourned without a transportation proposal to submit to voters.

Now, in a Special Session, we are to consider many of the same bond proposals that were rejected earlier, this time individually, just as we requested back in June.

Republicans are pleased that each bond proposal will now be considered separately, but it should have happened during the legislative session.

House Republicans are also pleased that the overall total has been reduced from the bloated $239 million to a more reasonable $163 million, but we still question the need for many of the other proposed bonds at this time. If indeed a priority, why could they not have been funded within the over $8 billion dollar budget? 

It clearly indicates that nothing appears to be a true priority with this administration and the Democrat majority.

As we have already stated, Republicans will support the $105 million transportation bond because we believe it qualifies as an emergency and is a clear priority for our state.

Other items which appear worthy, such as the broadband bond, have yet to be presented with a clear explanation of what the department hopes to accomplish with the proposed $15 million in borrowing. 

In January, we were told by the Commissioner of DECD that there would be a comprehensive long-term plan for broadband in Maine. 

When we asked several times for the plan, our office was eventually told that it was the same plan that had been developed by the LePage administration. 

I have asked the Commissioner’s office several times for a progress update or more details, but none were provided before we were asked to vote on the bond package in June. Now here we are, days out from another vote, and as of this writing, our office has not been provided with any further details.

In 2018, the people of Maine passed a $30,000,000 bond for wastewater treatment, a $49,000,000 bond to expand workforce development capacity and improve the facilities and infrastructure of Maine’s public universities, and a $15,000,000 bond to improve educational programs by upgrading facilities at all seven of Maine’s community colleges.

In 2015, we passed a bond for $15,000,000 for energy-efficient homes. 

In 2014, we passed $8,000,000 to monitor health issues related to ticks, mosquitoes, and bedbugs, $19,000,000 for small business loans and capital investments, $13,000,000 for investment in genetic and bioresearch facilities, $10,000,000 for drinking water and restoration of wetlands, and $7,000,000 to support the state’s marine economy.

These bonds comprise a portion of Maine’s $480 million dollar general obligation bond debt, in addition to a total of $396 million dollars that was bonded for transportation over the same period of time.

The people of Maine supported these bonds, but have any reports been done to determine if they successfully yielded intended results?  

When considering further borrowing, we should be cognizant of our current bonding obligations and place priorities on true needs for the people of Maine, not special interests.

With this in mind, additional bonding should be considered with the following questions in mind: Are they necessary, targeted, and specific? Can we have some assurance that they will be effective based on past results?And are they emergencies that require action now, or can they be considered in January?

House Republicans remain concerned that the hallmark of one-party rule is excessive spending brought on by a total lack of priorities.

Republicans have worked very hard to help create a strong economy, practice fiscal restraint, maintain modest debt, and create a budget surplus. We returned millions of dollars to taxpayers and reduced the size of government. The result was a more prosperous Maine, where limited resources were targeted to those most in need, not special interests.

Unfortunately, since Democrats took complete control of Maine government, we have seen a total lack of restraint and an inability to set priorities.

House Republicans will continue to propose and support a return to the policies that help all Mainers, not narrow identity groups.

Kathleen Dillingham is the Republican Leader of the Maine House of Representatives, where she represents District 72 (Oxford, Mechanic Falls, and Otisfield).

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