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Supporters: Bonds mean jobs, tourists in Maine

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Supporters of a railroad in northern Maine and a deep-water pier in southern Maine told lawmakers that state money is needed to retain jobs and boost tourism, the Kennebec Journal reports.  

Dozens of people packed
the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee room to testify in support of two
bond proposals: a $99-million package sponsored by Senate President Elizabeth
Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, and a $79-million proposal from Gov. John Baldacci. The
packages include money for roads, railroads, ports, energy-efficiency projects,
and water and wastewater improvements.

Portland Mayor Nicholas
Mavodones Jr. advocated for $8 million in Baldacci’s proposal to allow for
construction of the Ocean Gateway Deep Water Pier, to accommodate large cruise
ships, tankers and freighters in Portland Harbor.

Both bond proposals would
set aside money to buy about 240 miles of rail line now owned by the Montreal,
Maine and Atlantic Railway. Supporters said the track, which is to be abandoned
this summer, is used by 22 companies that rely on the line from Millinocket to
Madawaska.

"It’s the moment of
truth," Transportation Commissioner David Cole said. "Odds of getting
that back are remote" if the line is abandoned.

Lawmakers will soon begin
negotiating on a bond package, which would need support from two-thirds of the
Legislature and would go to voters for approval in June.

Republicans have said
they are concerned about borrowing at a time when the economy continues to
struggle. Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said some Republicans
aren’t interested in borrowing additional money and others are focused on
specific projects. Either way, he said, both proposals are "way too
big."

"There’s widespread
sentiment in the Republican caucus that the amount proposed is not
realistic," he said.

Last year, lawmakers
agreed on a $150 million package to be sent to voters in three installments.

Democrats argue that low
interest rates and contractors’ need for work make this a good time to invest
in the infrastructure projects.

Mitchell, a Democratic
candidate for governor, said her $99-million bond proposal would draw $76
million in federal money and retain or create more than 3,100 jobs. "If
ever there was a time for a jobs bond, it is now," she said.

Cole said most of
Baldacci’s proposal — $62 million of the $79 million — is for highways, ports
and railroads. Of the $62 million, half is for highway reconstruction or heavy
paving.

Mitchell’s bill includes
$47.5 million for highways and $20 million to pay for energy-efficiency
improvements in schools and the University of Maine System.

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