- Associated Press - Monday, June 25, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Contractors and legislative leaders criticized Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Monday for holding up bonds as the governor shifted the blame on lawmakers’ “excessive 11th-hour” spending and the state’s independent treasurer.

Lawmakers returned Monday facing bonds, tax code reform, LePage’s proposal to roll back the voter-approved minimum wage law and a stalemate on the release of funds for publicly financed candidates. Lawmakers last week began possibly tapping into $141 million in unappropriated surplus funds by passing over $100 million in spending including voter-approved Medicaid expansion.

Contractors, meanwhile, lined the Statehouse hallways and said the governor is causing uncertainty in the height of Maine’s construction season. LePage last week didn’t sign paperwork needed to sell transportation bonds Tuesday as planned.

“We should have a foot on the gas pedal, not taking it off,” said CPM Constructors president Paul Koziell. He said it’s “frustrating” as a business owner to have spent the weekend trying to figure out why the governor did not authorize the bond sale as expected, and what the governor will do to make sure the government pays its bills.

By Monday afternoon, the confusion appeared to dissipate. Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot confirmed that the agency has enough cash to keep making timely payments to contractors for at least five weeks.

That means, he said, it appears the state can sell the bonds later.

Senate Republican President Mike Thibodeau said the governor by Monday afternoon seemed interested in selling bonds, and that lawmakers could also consider legislation to give Hayes some authority to release certain bonds herself. House Republican Leader Ken Fredette, meanwhile, said he hopes the bonds will instead be sold in July.

Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon said LePage was jeopardizing jobs, $117 million dollars of state borrowing and the state’s credit and bond ratings.

LePage’s spokesman Peter Steele blamed independent state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Terry Hayes for not rescheduling the bond closing or providing additional time.

“The governor wanted to wait until the end of the session, preferably until Veto Day to determine how much excessive spending the Legislature was seeking before going out for the bonds,” Steele said, referring to the day when lawmakers consider the governor’s vetoes.

Hayes provided a June 1 memo initialed by LePage detailing bond offerings planned for this week. The bonds that are held up include $8 million for port, harbor and marine transport upgrades, $25 million for commercialization and research and development, and $80 million for in-progress highway and bridge projects.

Hayes said the governor Thursday asked Hayes to delay the bond offerings until the Legislature finished its work. But Hayes said she could only give LePage an extra 24 hours to formally sign the bonds.

Hayes warned that LePage’s tactics means it could cost taxpayers more to sell the bonds later due to rising interest rates and the uncertainty. Hayes said her office began Monday returning money deposits from interested bidders.

“How stable is the Maine state government if we can’t follow through on our purchase and sale agreement?” she said.

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