LePage Talks Details On Infrastructure Bond Package; Still Waiting On Hospital Repayment
Governor LePage and Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Barnhardt released the details of a $100 million general obligation transportation bond bill to fund transportation projects, including highways, bridges, ports, railroads and other public works. “We’re going to use this funding for what I call transformational things,” said Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt. “When I say that I mean a bridge that’s going to last 75-100 years. That makes sense.”The bond package is part of a 3-year, $1.8 billion investment in Maine’s infrastructure. According to the governor’s spokesperson, the bond proposal would invest $81 million in roads and bridges statewide. $19 million of that would go toward port, railroad, aviation and transit facilities and equipment, but would not be earmarked for any particular projects.Bernhardt says by leaving the $19 million open it keeps the state’s options open. “There are times when we need to be very nimble,” Bernhardt said. “And we can’t do that if it is specific to a project. There’s times when somebody wants to come in and there’s an economic opportunity, there’s a developer that wants to do something and I do not have the funding. There’s many examples of this where we’ve been nimble but it’s been very difficult to pull the funding together.”The plan must be approved by 2/3 of the House and Senate, then by Maine voters in November. The projects would be scheduled to start next year.Democrats hope this announcement means LePage is moving closer to releasing $105 million in bonds already approved by voters. Skowhegan Democrat Jeff McCabe has accused LePage of playing political games with those bonds, saying he’s keeping Maine people from getting back to work. “We have shovel ready projects and we can actually put people to work today, tomorrow and next week,” McCabe said.LePage has refused to release those bonds until the Democratic controlled legislature passes a plan to repay $484 million in back Medicaid debt to Maine hospitals. The state has been racking up that debt since 2009.LePage acknowledged he’s holding the bonds “hostage” until lawmakers pass a plan to repay the hospitals in full. “I’ll admit it. It’s the only way I can get anything done upstairs, you have to threaten them,” LePage said. “They won’t get it done unless I force it. If I release these bonds today, hospitals won’t get paid this year. That’s a fact.”LePage wants the hospital repayment fast tracked and a bill on his desk as soon as humanly possible. Democrats reject the notion that they’re dragging their feet as the governor has suggested. “We told the committee it’s a priority,” said Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, a Democrat from Sagadahoc County. “They’re working extremely hard on it and they have already scheduled hearings and will continue to do so. That being said, if we rush this as we did in 2003 we could get it wrong again.”LePage says the hospital debt is just one thing that’s scaring off investors who otherwise might come to Maine. The governor says Maine has the workforce and the infrastructure investors are looking for but says Maine must add the public policy that attracts businesses to Maine. “We could spend a billion dollars on our roads. We could spend $500 million paying our hospitals. But until the people upstairs want to put in some pro-business policies that will attract investment to Maine we are just nibbling around the edges,” LePage said. “When you talk to world class airline manufacturers and they say ‘what’s your energy cost? Are you a right-to-work state? Are you competitive?’ And every time I run into this guess who wins out? South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama.”LePage, who has been passionately advocating for the state to pay the hospitals since his days on the campaign trail, says his plan to eliminate the debt in one lump payment is a big part of getting Maine’s economy back on track. “What the people upstairs don’t realize is the rest of the world is watching,” LePage said. “When you owe your hospitals $500 million, why in hell would they come here? And then, to top it off, then you got people running around the state saying expand, expand, expand Medicaid. We’re not paying for it now.”A work session is scheduled for Friday on the hospital repayment plans.