Governor Mills called a special session last month to consider bond issues. The four bond proposals she submitted were largely a rework of a single $239-million package that we considered last June. Bonds approved by the Legislature would then be considered by voters in November, with voter-approved bonds to be sold in June of 2020.
Many legislators thought separating the transportation borrowing of $105 million out of the package would be a better idea. The two-year state budget is $800 million over the last two-year budget, which is an 11 percent increase in spending. Many of us thought this proposed borrowing (bonds), or some of it, should have been a part of that extra $800 million amount. However, the majority Democrats wanted all the extra bonds or nothing. They got nothing because they were not able to get a two-thirds majority.
During the special session, the Legislature did pass a transportation bond of $105 million; some housekeeping items; a bill to help Searsport High School; and the Senate passed a ranked choice voting expansion for presidential primaries. Ranked choice voting is a confusing method of voting and counting ballots, which should be ended as soon as possible. Expanding this convoluted new method of voting to presidential primaries, at a time when we are already concerned with election tampering, will only increase distrust.
A Blue Ribbon Committee is now studying how we fund our transportation system. I am hopeful that they will come up with recommendation that will make us less reliant on the borrowing and bonding of the past couple of decades. The transportation bond we approved, if supported by the voters this November, will be sold in June 2020. The bond will require some lead time for the steps needed for construction bids and planning for the next construction season. Other unsuccessful bond requests can be studied in more detail in January of 2020, with plenty of time for voter consideration in June — and in time for 2020 summer bonding cycle.
My concerns are that the new nearly $8-billion budget that scooped up some one-time funds and then spends more than 99 percent of anticipated state tax revenues and fees, during this two-year cycle, keeps pushing an ever-increasing state government. This large increase in state spending will be setting a new baseline for the next Legislature and will be very difficult to maintain. The national and state economy needs to remain strong to discourage tax hikes. Tax increases slow the economy and state tax revenue.
Another concern of mine is the 400 legislative bills that were carried-over until next session. In a normal year, most of these bills would have died for lack of funding. This time, when the money ran out, they were carried over on the final day’s late night session. This is hundreds of dollars in potential new spending and more bond proposals to consider this January.
Hang on to your checkbook; we are due to reconvene in January.
All parties need to work on a more thoughtful and prudent budget that will work toward Maine’s future.
Republican Sherm Hutchins of Penobscot represents District 131 (Dedham, Orland, Penobscot, Prospect, Stockton Springs and Verona Island) in the Maine House of Representatives.