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On July 6, Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed legislation placing a $100-million bond issue on the ballot for November 2, 2021. The bond issue is the third ballot measure set to go before voters in November. It’s the only bond issue certified for the ballot so far.
The ballot measure divides the bond revenue into two categories:
The bond issue would leverage an estimated $253 million in federal and other funding.
Since 2007, voters have approved 97.6 percent (40 of 41) of statewide bond issues in Maine. The last bond measure to be rejected was Question 2 (2012), which would have authorized $11 million in bonds to expand the state’s community college system. In 2020, voters approved two bond issues, one that issued $105 million for transportation projects and one that issued $15 million for high-speed internet infrastructure.
As of June 30, 2020, Maine had $572.70 million in debt from general obligation bonds. About $64.63 million of voter-approved bonds from prior elections had not yet been issued for projects. The debt from general obligation bonds was the highest since at least 2005 (not accounting for inflation). In 2019, the general obligation bond debt was $543.40 million.
Besides the bond issue, voters will also decide a ballot initiative to prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region, including the New England Clean Energy Connect, and a constitutional amendment to create a state right to growing, raising, harvesting, and producing food. Also before Gov. Mills, as of July 7, is a bill that would refer to voters a measure that would create a state-established, consumer-owned electric utility company called the Pine Tree Power Company. The legislature will return to session on July 19 and could consider an additional two constitutional amendments.
Augusta, ME: Maine Treasurer, Henry E.M. Beck today announced the state’s participation in the United States Mint American Innovation $1 Coin Program, a multi-year series to honor innovation and innovators by issuing $1 coins for each of the 50 states. Four new $1 coins with distinctive designs will be released each year from 2019 through 2032. Maine’s $1 Innovation Coin is scheduled for release in 2024. According to Treasurer Beck, “Maine has a unique opportunity to showcase a state-specific innovation and/or innovator in the field of science, its impact and connection to the state and we encourage the public to submit ideas,” he said.
The Office of the State Treasurer, (OST) will be accepting submissions from the public by mail, email and its website (https://www.maine.gov/treasurer/american-innovation-coin.shtml) through June 1, 2021.
Treasurer Beck said of the program, “We are excited to be involved and to be able to involve the public in the process of deciding the coin’s theme,” he said. “Maine is a diverse state with many innovators and innovations, all worthy of this type of recognition. It will be tough to make a decision,” he said. Treasurer Beck made clear that the ideas should not include artistic renditions, but rather be concepts in writing only, supporting the reason behind the idea.
Once Maine people submit concepts, a selection committee will assist Governor Mills in determining the concept for approval by the US Treasury. The US Treasury then will use its own artists to create a design for Maine’s coin that is emblematic of the innovation concept approved by the committee.
FMI about criteria for submissions, go to https://www.maine.gov/treasurer/american-innovation-coin.shtml or contact Gregory Olson, Deputy Treasurer by phone 624-7477 or email Gregory.Olson@Maine.gov.
FMI about the National Program, https://www.usmint.gov/learn/coin-and-medal-programs/americaninnovation-dollar-coins
The Office of the Treasurer of State is established in Article V, Part Third of the Constitution of the State of Maine. The core duties of the Treasurer’s Office are debt management, cash management, trust fund administration and unclaimed property administration. Other major tasks assigned to the Treasurer are directorships on many of Maine’s quasi-governmental debt issuing agencies and distributions under the Municipal Revenue Sharing Program.
AUGUSTA — Maine’s credit rating has emerged unscathed during the pandemic, with two major credit-rating agencies affirming the state’s financial health on Monday.
Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings gave the state solid marks for its performance during the pandemic.
S&P affirmed the state’s “active budget management” and strengthening of state reserves. Moody’s stated that Maine has a “strong financial position with adherence to governance best practices.”
“These stable ratings demonstrate that Maine is in a solid financial position, our economy is recovering and our state is a worthy investment,” Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said Monday in a statement.
Next month, Treasurer Henry Beck will sell bonds that will fund approximately $117 million in voter-approved projects.
Mills credited the administration’s fiscal management, federal support and Maine people’s resilience for keeping state finances steady despite a pandemic that slowed economic growth and lefts tens of thousands jobless.
With the state economy improving, the revenue forecasting committee projected the state will collect $941 million more than expected over the next two years. The anticipated extra income, along with federal aid, provided the underpinnings for the governor’s proposal to boost the state’s share of primary education costs to 55 percent — meeting a goal established in a voter referendum more than 15 years ago.
BY HENRY E.M. BECK
Our state government’s first priority must continue to be meeting the immediate health care needs created by COVID-19. At the same time, we have an obligation to plan for and mitigate against the impact of this unprecedented crisis on all aspects of our economy and government finances. Gov. Mills has consistently protected and added to our rainy day and this discipline will be beneficial. The governor’s recently enacted emergency balanced budget focused directly on immediate COVID-19. Thanks to advanced planning and responsible practices employed by our office, investments of state funds have not been materially impacted by recent market volatility.
My policy as state treasurer limits investments of taxpayer dollars to safer instruments such as collateralized bank accounts, CDs, and US Treasuries and federal agencies. At my direction, we ended further investments in riskier markets some months ago. While we do expect that earnings on our investments will lower, we believe we have avoided significant losses of taxpayer funds.
Not all losses can be prevented, however. The state has seen and will continue to see increases in unemployment. Of all the effects of COVID-19, unemployment is the most painful human cost. We must prioritize aid to laid-off workers and move quickly to provide these workers, as well as small businesses the financial support they need to get through this crisis. The Legislature, led by Senate President Troy Jackson and Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, has already taken significant steps in this regard by expanding unemployment coverage and using the Finance Authority of Maine and my office to offer loans to small businesses and consumers. We should also adopt private responses to COVID-19 for the long term. Permanently requiring adequate leave and health coverage for workers, expanding telehealth and accepting telework are all ideas whose time arrived before COVID-19 was part of our vocabulary.
There will be other serious economic consequences of this pandemic. State government should expect a decline in general fund tax receipts, which will result in a decrease in monthly revenue sharing with Maine’s towns and cities. My office administers the municipal revenue sharing program, and I know from this work, and from my time on the Waterville City Council, how critical this aid is to supporting the functioning of local governments from police departments to local roads. Municipalities should begin planning for a decrease in revenue sharing receipts immediately. A decline in economic activity will also impact pension funding levels, the health of endowments of nonprofits, and donations to charities. Decreased charitable giving may further strain local budgets as they may need to fill-in where non-profit social service agencies cut back services. State government must be prepared to calmly and carefully respond to these challenges. Going forward, policy makers must laser focus on providing direct benefits to workers and on private sector growth.
Clearly, Maine cannot respond economically alone. The power and purse of the Federal government are necessary. This past week, I joined several other State Treasurers urging Congress and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to use direct federal funds to stabilize the government bond market to ensure vital projects continue. These projects don’t just build our roads, and schools, and hospitals, but they create good-paying jobs while doing so. Congress should focus on relief to people, business and state and local governments. Congress should immediately also pause student loan obligations and consider dramatic relief for borrowers.
Perhaps most importantly, the economic response to COVID-19 will take a new sense of social solidarity and compassion. If we are to assist affected large corporations, society should suspend cold judgment of our neighbors who fall behind on their bills or do not have a savings account. We should recognize that concern for the health of our grandparents knows no skin color, income level or foreign border. For Mainers who entered the workforce at the onset of the Great Recession, concerns about income equality and systemic imbalance are not new. Now, Mainers of all ages can rise to this public health and economic challenge with candor and determination.
Moody's Investors Service has assigned Aa2 ratings to the State of Maine's $35.8 million General Obligation Bonds, 2019 Series A (Federally Taxable) and $125.3 million General Obligation Bonds, 2019 Series B. The outlook is stable.
RATINGS RATIONALE The Aa2 rating reflects a stable economy that will be challenged by weak demographic trends, an improving financial position, and an elevated combined debt and pension burden that is mitigated by rapid amortization of debt and pension liabilities.
RATING OUTLOOK Maine's stable outlook is based on an improving financial position resulting from healthy revenue performance and adherence to governance best practices.
On Nov. 6, Maine voters will decide four questions asking to borrow a total of $200 million.
The borrowing would pay to mitigate wastewater pollution in coastal watersheds, for upgrades to the state’s aging transportation infrastructure, and for facility and programming improvements at public higher education campuses.
In July, the Legislature settled on four borrowing questions for the November ballot after more than a year of vetting dozens of other bond proposals. Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has often quarreled with lawmakers about bonds and who continues to withhold some voter-approved borrowing measures, indicated that he could tolerate $300 million in new borrowing. But lawmakers stalled for months before they agreed to a compromise borrowing package.
Mainers have given the green light to four bond initiatives totaling $200 million.
The proposals approved Tuesday mitigate wastewater pollution, upgrade transportation infrastructure and fund improvements at colleges and universities.
One of them directs $30 million over the next decade to municipalities with subpar septic systems that are leaking untreated stormwater and sewage into the ocean and nearby lakes and rivers. Some of the money also would go to homeowners for similar improvements.