By Deborah Dunlap Avasthi, MBTA President
We’re going to hear a lot of promises in this campaign, but we need to make sure there’s real discussion about addressing funding for our deteriorating roads and bridgesAfter labor day, elections tend to heat up. And this year has been no exception. When Maine voters go to the polls on November 2, they will be voting for a new governor. They also will have the chance to reverse the tide of neglect and deterioration that plagues Maine’s transportation system.
The truth is, while it can be so easy to dismiss statements made on the road to the governor’s office – and the statehouse – as campaign rhetoric, it is an important opportunity for voters to help shape the issues of the coming administration. It is the first time that many of the candidates meet face-to-face with voters and hear their concerns. It is the time when they test drive positions on issues that will occupy the state agenda for the coming four years. It’s also, as we are finding once again, the time that candidates make promises (e.g., “no new taxes”) that can abruptly end productive discussions of the issues.
The Maine Better Transportation Association and our members are working hard to make sure that substantive discussions about transportation funding don’t fall victim to spur-of-the-moment promises.
This spring and summer, our board of directors, policy committee and senior policy advisor John Melrose of Maine Tomorrow worked to craft a document we hope will give shape to the transportation policy discussions with those running for Blaine House and the Maine State House. Transportation: The case for investment details four principles that should guide our state leaders as they work to address the severe transportation funding shortages that are on the horizon for Maine.
Maine faces a $3 billion transportation funding shortfall over the next 10 years and the consequences for not addressing the problem are dire. If we just listen to campaign promises of no new taxes, we will not get our potholes filled, our bridges repaired and much-needed safety improvements made. We need to take steps now to fill that gaping hole in the transportation budget, and we need a governor and legislature who are partners in the effort to make real change.
The real issues, as Transportation: The case for investment details it, are responsibility, setting priorities and relying on the simple principle of users paying for the infrastructure and services that keep Maine people working, our families safe and businesses competitive.
Already in this campaign, we’ve heard a lot about transportation from the candidates.
In early September, the Associated Press sent the five gubernatorial candidates a three-question survey. One of the survey questions asked how to address the need for highway funding due to increasing costs of maintenance and falling fuel consumption.
The candidates’ answers to this question show there is still a lot of work to be done to get our message out. According to the Associated Press:
“[Libby]Mitchell called for ‘robust’ capital expenditures through bonding. [Paul]LePage said a ‘bloated transportation bureaucracy has consumed too much of Maine’s highway budget, and our roadways have suffered as a result.’ [Eliot] Cutler said highways and bridges have been neglected for too long and public safety’s at stake.
‘I am not ready to call for an increase in the gas tax, but it would be irresponsible and disingenuous not to consider one, given the magnitude of the problem we face,’ said Cutler.
Agreeing that more money is not necessarily the answer, [candidate Kevin] Scott promised to examine priorities and ‘establish realistic expectations’ for highways and infrastructure.
[Candidate Shawn] Moody said gas tax revenues will continue to shrink as cars’ fuel economy increases, so the state needs more creative solutions that do not simply rely on gas taxes.”
There is a lot of information MBTA members can glean from these statements. It is clear that the candidates are beginning to understand the magnitude of the problem facing the state and that we have our work cut out for us, as we head into the final weeks and days of the election.
We need to keep raising the issues and promoting a thoughtful discussion that will continue into the new administration. Blanket promises denying an increase in the gas tax may assuage nervous voters, but do not contribute to a substantive discussion of the issues.
I hope you will continue to work with us to move the issue of transportation funding through the election and on to the agenda at the Maine State House and in the governor’s Office for the next four years. Please take some time to read Transportation: The case for investment on the MBTA web site (www.mbtaonline.org) and share these powerful policy ideas about reshaping how Maine funds critical transportation infrastructure and services.