Governor LePage announced on Tuesday night that he would not borrow funds for bonds Maine voters approved in 2009 for important state economic investments.
We’ve seen politicians ignore Maine voters before. But sometimes Mainers fight back.
In 1992, voters, fed up with the Legislature poaching hunting and fishing license fees intended to support fish stocking and deer herd management programs, approved by 3:1 a constitutional amendment to earmark forever license fees for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
In 2004, after years of legislatures’ promises to pay 55% of the cost of local education, voters passed a citizen-led initiative requiring this state funding to reduce property taxes (unfortunately this law still goes unheeded even today).
Last year, conservative legislators took away Mainers’ 38-year-old right to register to vote on Election Day. Mainers responded with a people’s veto soundly overturning this attack on voter rights.
Now, Governor LePage is disregarding Maine voters’ express directive to issue bonds for the kind of public investment that creates jobs, like port improvements, redevelopment projects, and land conservation.
The Governor issued a letter to state departments telling them to forget about the capital planning they’ve been doing for three years, forget about the matching federal money the state will forfeit, and forget about the time and energy invested in making projects successful. None of that matters.
The authority to issue these 2009 bonds expires in five years. Curiously the Governor suggests that he might approve this borrowing mere months before the bonds are set to expire. Large construction projects that require upfront planning and engineering, time-consuming competitive bid processes, and warm weather only available certain months of the year cannot possibly be completed within the time frame LePage has in mind. If LePage approves the bonds sale in January 2014 (the Governor only said it may be prudent to borrow at that time), by the time engineering, bidding, and construction occurs, the bonds will expire on June 30, 2014.
If the 2009 bonds expire, agencies can go back to the Legislature and ask for an extension of time. We can only hope the Legislature, unlike the Governor, will respect the voters’ wishes. But some legislators have demonstrated an unwillingness to stand up for Mainers as when they recently sustained the Governor’s veto on bonds legislation that would have created thousands of good jobs through research and development investment, or when they enacted income tax cuts with no plans to make up for the lost revenues that fund quality schools, health care, and public safety.
Perhaps the voters need to stand up for themselves again.