Maine Trails, October - November '07
Inside Cover
President’s Message
Cover Story: Congestion strategies
Member News: Family ties
Conversations with the committee

Conversations with the committee
This is third in Maine Trails’ series of interviews with members of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. In this issue, we talk with Representatives Richard M. Cebra, Charles “Dusty” Fisher and Ann E. Peoples about transportation in Maine, the funding challenges on the state level and their vision for the future of our transportation system.

Representative Richard M. Cebra (R-Naples)
Representative Cebra was first elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 2004. He believes government should only provide those critical functions that cannot be performed by people or private organizations. He has been an active participant in Republican politics since 1980. He is a former vice chair of the Naples Budget Committee and active in the Naples Republican Town Committee and a charter member of the Naples Lions Club. He is a member of the Freemasons’ Oriental Lodge in Bridgton and Presumpscot Lodge in Windham, Sebago Lake Anglers Association, the Free Hunters Club of America, Life Member of the National Rifle Association, Promise Keepers, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens Alliance of Maine, Republicans for Environmental Protection and the Greater Windham Sebago Lake and Greater Bridgton Lake Region Chambers of Commerce. He lives in Naples and owns a seasonal mini golf course, arcade, craft shop and ice cream restaurant. He and his wife Philippa have two children.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?
This is my first term on Transportation.

Do you serve on other committees?
I used to serve on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and I am the Republican lead on the Committee on Engrossed Bills.

Why did you want this committee assignment?
Because I see transportation as fundamental to everything we do as a state. We can’t go to “quality places” or “economic clusters,” if we don’t have decent roads to get us there. I also believe that we have a priority problem in this state. We have focused too long on growing social services and transportation infrastructure has taken a back seat. We are unable to attract businesses if our roads are falling apart and we are unable to attract any heavy industry if we don’t have a decent freight rail system. We need to shift our priorities. We are the second lowest in the entire country in terms of having General Fund support for highways. Idaho is No. 1, and they have fewer roads to take care of than we do.

What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine’s transportation system during your term?
A paradigm shift in the way we fund our infrastructure. We need to bring social services and education into a more sustainable funding model and in doing that, at the same time, shift more of our General Fund dollars back to our transportation infrastructure.

What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?
An entrenched bureaucracy – a government that has taken its eye off the ball. We should be less focused on growing state government and more focused on maintaining our system. I’m not even talking about new roads or freight lines; I am talking about fixing what we already have.

How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?
A rapidly deteriorating infrastructure with rapidly increasing costs and a majority of people not having the political will to fix it.

If you had the ability to change one aspect of Maine’s transportation system with the wave of a wand, what would it be?
I would prioritize General Fund spending to include money going to transportation, slowing the unsustainable growth in other areas of state General Fund spending. I would maximize the dollars we do have in the Highway Fund and use that to fix what we can fix.

Did you support LD 1790? If yes, what do you think are the best prospects or strategies for getting the bill funded? If no, why not?
I supported it and actively lobbied for its passage within the caucus and outside the caucus as well. It was the first comprehensive look at transportation that I know about in this state. The administration hasn’t come up with a vision on how to fix the infrastructure, so the Transportation Committee had to. Setting up the bond fund was great. Funding it was another thing and we need more discussions there. The transportation sector contributes so much in sales tax that there is no reason we shouldn’t use some of that sales tax money for fix the system we have.

Earlier this year, an OPEGA study was released that suggested the Highway Fund should pay between 17 and 34 percent of the State Police budget versus the 60 percent it is currently paying. Do you support having the General Fund pay a higher percentage of the State Police budget?
The Highway Fund should only pay the percentage it is supposed to pay based on transportation-related enforcement. It should be based on actual activity, not some made up number that’s not even defendable. The State Police does a great job, and they should be fully funded; but the funding should come from the General Fund. We should not be doing things in government just because “it’s the way things are done.” We need to look at the function and cost of all aspects of state government as a major part of our responsibility to the taxpayers, as well as the people who receive state services to ensure both that we’re getting the best government possible. Our crumbling infrastructure is evidence that we’re not doing that.

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own?
Three cars: a 1985 Dodge Ram Charger (in mint condition) that gets put away in November; a 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis; and a 2005 Jeep Liberty which my wife drives. I want her to be in a new car and a 4-wheel drive, but I don’t like to buy new cars for myself given the excise tax rates we have in this state. I also have a ‘79 Yamaha 11-Special that I bought new, and four mountain bikes. I own an 18 HP Troy Built yard tractor and a bunch of attachments for use around the property and an old ‘75 Ford pickup to plow my parking lot and driveways. We also have an older pop-up camping trailer.

How do you get to Boston?
When we go to Boston it is to fly out of Logan and, typically, I drive to Portland and get on Concord Trailways. They do a great job.

In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What’s the best?
The worst road was Route 35 in Naples, I couldn’t drive my Grand Marquis on it without straddling the double yellow lines. But as of the last week of October, MaineDOT is skimcoating it, so it should be okay to drive on for the short while till the frost heaves come and break it all up again next spring. The best road is the turnpike because on snowy days the turnpike is dry almost as soon as the snow hits the ground. The turnpike and the rest of Interstate 95 is the major artery, the aorta of our system.

Do you have a favorite scenic route?
Because of the seasonal nature of my business, I take very little time off in the summer. But if I find an hour of free time, I get on my motorcycle and go from Naples to Harrison, riding across the top of Long Lake to North Bridgton and then back onto Route 302 in Bridgton down to Naples. Sometimes to make the ride a little longer, instead of just coming down 302, I take 117 from Bridgton to Denmark then to Sebago and up 114 to Naples. Some of the roads are a bit rough, and you can dodge the worst parts on a motorcycle. But it’s an hour of heaven on nice country roads anyway.

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?
I have two visions of the future of Maine transportation. One is that if we leave things they way they are funding wise, we will see 30 percent or more of our bridges closed or restricted, and our minor collectors will be impassable other than to four-wheel drive vehicles. We will be too short sighted to take advantage of our ports to improve freight handling because of environmentalists, and we’ll let opportunities like the Western Maine rail project that’s in the works right now slip through our fingers because of one bureaucratic reason or another. My second vision is if we are ever able to get past the special interests and fully fund LD 1790, then we can begin to enjoy some of what is happening in New Hampshire relative to their roads and their economy. I see us taking advantage of moving freight from Portland to New Hampshire and all of New England by rail easing some of the pressure from heavy trucking on our highways. I also see us breaking the feast-or-famine cycle that has plagued transportation funding by putting a steady sustainable bonding structure in place.

Representative Charles “Dusty” Fisher (D-Brewer)
With six terms in the Maine House of Representatives, serving on both the Legal and Veterans Affairs and Transportation committees (he chaired Transportation for one term), Charles “Dusty” Fisher has been a strong advocate for transportation in the state of Maine. A former Brewer High School teacher for 26 years, Fisher believes the most important thing government can do is protect the people who “live in the shadows, the people who cannot protect themselves” and provide for public safety, including a sound transportation system. Fisher has been a strong supporter of U.S. troops serving overseas and is a member of the Maine Troop Greeters at the Bangor International Airport. He also has served as a Maine Community College System trustee, on the Harness Racing Promotion Board, BANSCO and Brewer Federal Credit Union boards and the Penobscot County Cooperative Extension Service board. He is currently on the Eastern Maine Development Corporation board and the Eastern Maine Community College advisory board. He and his wife Ellen have two children and one grandchild.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?
The first time I served I was on the committee for six years. This is my ninth year on the committee.

Do you serve on other committees?
Not at this time. In the past, I have been on Legal and Veteran’s Affairs.

Why did you want this committee assignment?
This is the best committee to serve on. It serves the needs of everybody in the state.

What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine’s transportation system during your term?
Obviously, sustainable funding to meet the transportation needs of our state.

What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?
Getting a consensus on what is the best way to achieve that goal.

How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?
The state is in desperate need of upgrading our bridges and roads.

If you had the ability to change one aspect of Maine’s transportation system with the wave of a wand, what would it be?
The safety aspect of it. I would like to see our roads and bridges in good shape so that the citizens of Maine can complete their daily travels in safe conditions. The biggest reason we need to improve our system is for safety reasons, followed by economic development.

Did you support LD 1790? If yes, what do you think are the best prospects or strategies for getting the bill funded? If no, why not?
Yes, I supported LD 1790. The most important thing we can do is to educate other members in terms of our needs, and the lack of authority to take care of those needs because of the funding difficulties.

Earlier this year, an OPEGA study was released that suggested the Highway Fund should pay between 17 and 34 percent of the State Police budget versus the 60 percent it is currently paying. Do you support having the General Fund pay a higher percentage of the State Police budget?
Absolutely.

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own?
We have three cars, and one bicycle.

How do you get to Boston?
Most of the time I drive, but occasionally we have taken the train from Portland.

In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What’s the best?
There aren’t any terrible roads that I travel on a daily basis. Occasionally I will be Downeast or off the beaten path and there are plenty of bad roads. The best road is the interstate.

Do you have a favorite scenic route?
The road to Schoodic Point [Route 186].

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?
I would hope that in 20 years, we would have caught up with our backlog of roads that need to be rebuilt and bridges that need to be upgraded. I would like to see better utilization of our freight rail facilities.

Representative Ann E. Peoples (D-Westbrook)
Ann Peoples worked for 13 years as a process technician at the S.D. Warren paper mill in Westbrook, six years in finance and investment and now works part-time for Pine Tree Networks. She’s lived in Westbrook for more than 30 years. Before running for a seat in the Maine Legislature, she served on the Westbrook City Council and several years on the city’s planning board. She grew up in a Navy family, and holds a bachelor of arts degree from the University of California. She supports efforts to bring more economic development and jobs to the state. She and her husband Patrick have five children and five grandchildren.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?
This is my first term.

Do you serve on other committees?
This is my only committee.

Why did you want this committee assignment?
I spent 12 years on the Metro board, with two years as president. As president, I worked with PACTS in the Portland Metro region. I have always had a strong interest in transportation issues.

What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine’s transportation system during your term?
I would like to see sustainable funding for transportation infrastructure.

What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?
The big question is: Where is the money going to come from? We know the answer to that one. What do we give up? Do we cut spending? Raise taxes? It has to come from somewhere.

How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?
In a word, dire.

If you had the ability to change one aspect of Maine’s transportation system with the wave of a wand, what would it be?
I would create an efficient, convenient public transportation system including buses, trains and jitneys.

Did you support LD 1790? If yes, what do you think are the best prospects or strategies for getting the bill funded? If no, why not?
Yes, I supported it in its original form and I support it now.

Earlier this year, an OPEGA study was released that suggested the Highway Fund should pay between 17 and 34 percent of the State Police budget versus the 60 percent it is currently paying. Do you support having the General Fund pay a higher percentage of the State Police budget?
Yes, I think that is probably the way it turns out in terms of fairness. What that percentage exactly is going to be, we just don’t know yet.

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own?
One car and two bicycles.

How do you get to Boston?
Either by train or bus.

In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What’s the best?
Route 231 from North Yarmouth to Pineland is the worst and the best is the turnpike.

Do you have a favorite scenic route?
Route 6 from Howland to Milo.

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?
I think you should be able to get from any urban area to any spot in the state without taking a personal vehicle.

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Member News: Family ties | Page 5 of 5 | Conversations with the committee