AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Maine legislators will finally wrap up their session this week, with a vote on how much money to borrow for new bonds. Those questions typically are decided in June, but the long budget fight delayed the whole process.
The state borrows money with bonds to pay for capital needs, such as road and bridge construction or university buildings. They have multiple requests for both those things this year – and many others. But there is still a question of how much new borrowing the state can, or should afford.
The Appropriations Committee spent the day Monday hearing about 13 bond proposals, knowing only a few can actually get approved. The most likely is a new bond for transportation — highway and bridge projects usually get broad support. Beyond that are requests for more passenger rail development, research and development, municipal culverts, community colleges and the university system.
There is also a new request: $100 million to help reduce student debt. The money would go to graduates who plan to work and live in Maine for at least five years. If they did not do that they would have to pay the money back.
The goal, according to Democratic Sen. Nate Libby, is to attract more young people to live and work in Maine.
"Whether they’re beyond the New Hampshire border or beyond the U.S. border," Libby said, "we desperately need young people to come and set up residence here in Maine."
He has apparently found an ally in Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Gubernatorial staff member Aaron Chadbourne told the committee Monday the governor supports the bond proposal, for similar reasons.
"We think it will be a powerful recruiting tool for Maine businesses, Maine companies to bring younger people here," he said.
The student debt bond will face tough competition for limited resources. The governor is also supporting a proposed $50 million R&D bond and a $100 million highway bond. Bonds require a two-thirds vote of the full Legislature, as well as the governor’s signature, before they can be sent to voters.
The full Legislature will meet Thursday to vote on bonds and all other final items before adjournment.