Waiting, watching, wondering
By Randy Mace, MBTA President
Transportation advocates spent much of their time waiting during this most recent legislative session – waiting to see if legislators would be sending a bond for highway and bridge and other transportation repairs to voters. And after the Maine House and Senate passed a $95 million bundle of bonds – including $51.5 million for transportation – we all were waiting to see if Governor LePage would allow the bond to go forward. Now, that wait has come to an end just as this issue of Maine Trails was going to press – with positive results. On May 25, the governor opted to allow the transportation bond and four others to go to voters (He did elect to veto a $20 million bond for research and development).
That is good news, but the wait is not quite over. There still will be a voter referendum in November and, if the transportation bond is passed, there is a chance the governor will hold back the funds for some time. In a written statement, Governor LePage said: “I cannot personally support any of these bonds and will not vote for them at the polls in November. Even with the voters’ authorization to borrow this money, my administration will not spend it until we’ve lowered our debt significantly. That could be several years.”
The truth is, we need this bond, and we thank the legislature and the governor for allowing it to go forward, so the voters can decide whether they want to make these investments.
The $51.5 million transportation bond includes essential funding – $41 million for roads and bridges, $1 million for transit, $6.5 million for ports, $1.5 million for the Industrial Rail Access Program and $1 million-plus for aviation. Because the legislature will not convene again until 2013, this will be the last opportunity to address – at least in part – funding to help fix Maine’s failing roads and bridges. And that’s a long time to wait, especially for the hundreds of thousands of Maine citizens who depend on our highways and bridges for work, school and family.
As Representative Emily Cain, the Democratic leader in the House, has pointed out, Maine voters, now and in the past, agree transportation investments pay off. They make Maine business more competitive and they produce jobs. We hope that, if voters do pass the transportation bond, the money will be released in the 2013 construction season, so we can begin to put it to work to create jobs and economic opportunity throughout Maine – and make our roads and bridges safer for all.
Transportation has been a prominent topic in Augusta this year as legislators took up a number of different issues, from state police funding from the Highway Fund to state underwriting for a new east-west highway study. Still, at the end of this session, we are left wondering about the most challenging transportation issue of all: how will we fund much needed repairs to our roads, bridges and other transportation systems?
One thing we do have is a new estimate of how much more is needed: $150 million a year over the next 10 years. We have this thanks to L.D.1753: An Act To Improve Transportation in the State. That bill was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor and is the result of work by MaineDOT to develop performance standards and apply them to the state’s transportation network. It will help the state prioritize the dwindling pot of money available for highway and bridge repairs.
Determining that Maine has a $150 million-per-year transportation funding problem is a good first step. But we need our leaders in Augusta to do more. A $51.5 million bond with $41.5 million going to highways and bridges will be a good start, but is only a start. We need our leaders to work together to identify new long-term funding sources. One of those logically could be the General Fund. At the beginning of the 125th Maine Legislature, both Governor LePage and legislative leadership had voiced support for more General Fund money going to highway and bridges, but two years later, we are left waiting, watching and wondering about how we will address Maine’s failing roads and bridges.
I would like to say thanks to everyone for their support this past year, in the form of volunteering on a committee, recruiting new members, advertising, sponsorships, talking with legislators and our congressional delegation – and urging others to get involved. Your membership in our association is crucial to our mission!
I have enjoyed leading the MBTA. This is an organization that truly works on behalf of the people of Maine and its members and staff are tireless in their support of safer, more efficient transportation investments for all of the state. I also want to thank my wife, family and employer for their understanding of time spent away from home, family and work.
As I pass on the gavel to our new president, Doug Hermann, I urge you all to stay informed and involved – with the bond referendum, we will need everyone working to get the message out about its benefits (jobs, mobility, safety) to friends, family, co-workers and neighbors and to counteract negative messages about borrowing. Roads, bridges, ports, transit, rail and aviation are worthwhile investments that improve our communities, enhance safety and bring economic opportunity for decades to come.
Thanks again for your part in making this past year a rewarding one working with a great organization.