Maine Legislature returns to decide on $200M bond package, vetoed bills

The halls of the State House are brimming again with the Legislature back in town for one of its final sessions of 2017.

Those hallowed halls have been relatively quiet since the bruising state budget battle ended early July 4. Today’s session will focus mostly on procedural matters, though some of the items on the docket are major in terms of their impact on Mainers for years to come.

One of those items is consideration of a bonding package that was recommended Wednesday by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. A majority of the committee recommended that the state borrow $200 million for a range of projects:

  • $105 million for transportation projects, including $5 million for local culverts, $80 million for roads and bridges and $20 million for other modes of transportation;
  • $40 million for a student debt relief program that would help fund a student debt cancellation and refinancing program; and
  • $55 million in research and development funds for the biomedical sector.

That package faces a tough road ahead. While the transportation bond received a 10-1 endorsement of the Appropriations Committee, the other two ran into opposition by House Republicans.

There’s an interesting dichotomy there. Gov. Paul LePage told WGAN on Thursday that he and Democrats agree on the student debt bond, an idea he has long floated. He told fellow Republicans on the radio that “if you don’t like my plan, come up with your own.”

“We don’t have enough workers,” LePage said. “We need to lower the age of our population. We need more people of working age in the state of Maine.”

In other business, the Senate will make decisions on a few dozen bills that passed earlier in the session but were held up until now because of their fiscal impacts on the state’s General Fund or because they involve studies to be conducted by the legislative or executive branch.

There are also 10 bills that have been vetoed by LePage which will live or die today based on votes in the chambers. Here’s the bills’ soundtrack.

One of them is a solar energy bill that was in negotiations for months but had a dark cloud put over it by LePage and his veto pen. Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, who sponsored the bill, was working on an amendment to the bill in an effort to save it.

True to form, LePage is still proposing new legislation late in the game. According to the House Calendar, he has proposed a bill that would reduce the tax imposed on the value of rental of temporary living quarters like hotels and tourist trailer camps by 1.5 percentage points. Click here to see today’s Senate calendar.

We’ll keep you posted about how it all goes. Speaking of keeping you posted, the Bangor Daily News political team will be at the State House all day (and well into tonight, we expect). The best place to keep up on developments is the live blog on our home page, which we’ll be feeding throughout the day with news snippets, colorful anecdotes and the day’s most interesting social media posts.

The blog also includes a veto scorecard (hat tip to BDN data guru Darren Fishell for that) where you can read all about the bills and see how they are or aren’t progressing through the process.

At day’s end, we’ll mash it all together in a final report that we hope will be coherent and lacking evidence of our tired eyes. We might need a little help from Neil Young by then. — Christopher Cousins with Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • After he ruled it out, LePage is being lobbied by the White House to run for Senate in 2018. He’s thinking about it. WGAN’s Matthew Gagnon told LePage that he’s heard that the White House wants him to run against independent U.S. Sen. Angus King next year and LePage replied that it was true, even after he announced that he wouldn’t run for that seat in May. More than a month earlier, state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, declared his run to unseat King. On Thursday, LePage said if Brakey “doesn’t start resonating pretty quick, there’s a possibility I might change my mind.” But he praised Brakey, calling him “a great guy” and he said he hopes his campaign takes off. — Michael Shepherd
  • The Legislature will make one more effort to salvage a solution on Maine’s unconstitutional ranked-choice voting law. The 10-member Legislative Council voted Wednesday to allow consideration of an after-deadline bill from Rep. Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth, that would implement Maine’s ranked-choice voting law for primaries and congressional elections. A May opinion from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found the law unconstitutional for legislative and gubernatorial elections, so Ackley’s bill wouldn’t implement it for those. The Legislature deadlocked on bills this year that would have repealed the voter-approved law and amended the Maine Constitution to allow it, leaving it in limbo. Ackley’s bill likely won’t face a vote until August, when the Legislature is expected to come back to handle bills that may be vetoed by LePage. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Can the Senate president cross-check?

The Senate will have a special guest on Thursday, when Biddeford native and Pittsburgh Pirates defenseman Brian Dumoulin is set to be honored by Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford, and the rest of the chamber. (It’s not on the Senate calendar yet, but Mario Moretto, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, confirmed it.)

We knew that Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is a basketball fan from this episode of WCSH’s “Bill Green’s Maine,” where he lowered his hoop to the point where even he and Bill Green could dunk on it. A less-known fact is that Thibodeau was a year behind future Baltimore Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick at Hampden Academy and played baseball with him as a kid.

Can he cross-check? We hope to find out today. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

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Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.