We need a bond, because we need jobs
By Randy Mace, MBTA President
Simply put, we need the Maine Legislature to pass a transportation bond before this session is up. Why? Because we need the jobs. While there are signs of an economic turnaround, the truth is Maine has been leading the region in the numbers of jobs lost over the past year. And while the losses have been felt by almost every sector of our economy, the construction industry has been hit hardest.
That is true not only in Maine, but nationally, as well, where construction unemployment is hovering at a shocking level – about 18 percent in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As a result of a lack of investing in transportation and other critical infrastructure, Maine’s construction industry has suffered disproportionately throughout the recession. Overall, according to a recent analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP), Maine lost the more jobs per capita of any state in the nation during 2011. According to the center’s report, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only six states lost jobs in 2011. At -1.2 percent, Maine’s loss was the greatest. That same report showed that the construction industry has continued to hemorrhage jobs, despite signs of an economic turnaround. Approximately 1,600 Maine construction jobs were lost in 2011.
What can turn things around? Investments in transportation. The fact is, for every $10 million we invest in our transportation infrastructure, we create and/or support 270 jobs. In other words, construction jobs bring other jobs.
Last year, public concerns about bonding were high, and Governor LePage and the Maine Legislature rejected several proposed bond packages. Several of those bills are back up for consideration by the legislature this session, and it appears that legislative sentiment is turning in favor of a bond to help kick start our economy.
This year several Maine lawmakers have signaled they plan to develop a bond package with a core piece for roads and bridges, to send to Maine voters for approval in June or November.
Door to bond ‘ajar’
We hope that ultimately Governor LePage will support an infrastructure bond. The Associated Press has reported that the governor is “not actively considering a bond package but ‘the door’s slightly ajar.’” That’s a quote from the governor’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, who went on to say: “The governor believes we need to be in a healthy fiscal state before we take on more debt.”
Truth is, Mainers are a prudent bunch and our fiscally conservative approach to debt in recent decades puts us in good stead for a transportation bond. We retire our debt in just 10 years, earlier than most other states.
According to a report last year by MECEP, Maine’s economic good health shows in two critical debt measures. First, the state’s debt service is well below the long-established 5 percent threshold for general obligation bonds as a percentage of General Fund and Highway Fund revenues. Second, Maine’s tax supported debt per capita is $865, significantly less than the national median of $1,066.98. Further, Maine’s tax supported debt as a percentage of personal income is 2.4 percent, again significantly lower than the national median of 2.8 percent.
I know many of you know firsthand how hard it is to lay-off a person that has worked for you and maybe even alongside you, not because they don’t do a good job, but because there is not enough work to go around. You understand what a job means to someone you’ve gotten to know, someone whose family you know, someone you know does good work and deserves a chance.
We’ve all seen how job loss in general has affected families on our streets and in our towns. We’ve seen it at the store and at church. And we know that Maine could be doing so much more to help give people a leg up.
For years, voters have overwhelmingly supported transportation bond investments, understanding not only the benefits but also the critical importance of these investments.
It’s our belief that a transportation bond would put more Mainers back to work, creating a ripple effect that would strengthen local businesses, help provide an infrastructure system that businesses could depend on, and make for a healthier Maine. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the people of Maine to decide. And it’s up to us to tell the legislature and the governor to let the people vote on this critical issue. Please let your legislators know you support a transportation bond, and urge them to, as well.
Finally, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has supported our advocacy efforts so far this year by letting your voices be heard by Maine lawmakers and to members of our Congressional delegation.
I have enjoyed talking to you at our MBTA meetings, at legislative events and look forward to seeing you at our annual meeting in May!