Thanks to our elected leaders who have been able to set aside ideological differences and work toward solutions
By Thomas Gorrill, MBTA President
These are difficult times for our state and our country, with deep ideological divides getting in the way of getting things done. Sometimes it seems as if party stance trumps practicality and that political compromise has become an endangered art. Too often this brings the whole show to a grinding halt and, as we have seen in recent years, our roads and bridges continue to crumble, as a result.
That is why we are grateful to be able to say “thank you” to Maine’s elected officials who recently have stepped up in one way or another on behalf of transportation. Specifically, I would like to thank Senator Susan Collins, Governor Paul LePage and Maine Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves.
These elected officials did what we always hope our leaders will do when we elect them. They worked hard to keep lines of discussion open and create opportunities for compromise.
To some, compromise is looked at as backing down from belief, instead of constructive deal making. To the heroes I write about in this column, compromise is the grease necessary for any important public endeavor. So thanks to those politicians who are working for positive change. We greatly appreciate your efforts.
Senator Collins was the lone Republican supporting the $54 billion transportation and housing bill defeated in the Senate this summer. Collins, a key author of that bill, found herself in a battle against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) who worked hard to see the bill die. Although Collins had lined up several of her fellow Republicans to support the compromise measure, those votes evaporated under intense pressure from McConnell. The measure fell six votes short of the 60 required to overcome a GOP filibuster. Collins was the only Republican to support moving ahead.
According to the Associated Press, Republicans killed the bill because it exceeded spending limits required under the automatic budget cuts enacted earlier this year and known as “the sequester.” Some also have speculated there were other reasons, including the need for McConnell to take a hard line stance in order to position himself better against an upcoming primary battle.
Thank you, Senator Collins, for bravely stepping up and doing the right thing. Your constituents back in Maine truly appreciate that you have our best interests at heart. We hope that, in time, your colleagues will come to appreciate how important transportation – and compromise – is, if we are to keep our roads paved, our bridges safe, our buses operating and our economy strong.
Our second round of thanks goes to our elected leaders right here in Maine. And I am pleased to report the outcome at the capitol building was decidedly better for transportation this August, despite a rocky start. At question was whether a $100 million transportation bond would be passed in time to go to voters this November. The bond is a critical piece of funding for the current MaineDOT three-year work plan, and there was concern that the department would have to cut $100 million in projects or more if the legislature did not pass it in time.
In June, the legislature adjourned without addressing a bond. The hold up proved to be differing views on just how much Maine should be bonding and where those scarce dollars should go. The Democratic legislative leadership in Maine’s Senate and House wanted more bond funding. Governor LePage wanted less. And, for what seemed like an agonizingly long time, it appeared those differences were too great to overcome. But our leaders kept working at it and found a compromise.
The final $149.5 million compromise bond package includes $100 million for highways, bridges and multimodal facilities, such as ports. The package also contains $14 million to maintain and upgrade Maine’s armories, $15.5 million for investment in community college facilities; $15.5 million for Maine’s university system; and $4.5 million for the Maine Maritime Academy.
The bonds will be presented to voters as five separate bond questions. Transportation holds the number three spot, and this is how the ballot question will read:
Question 3 (Bond Issue): Do you favor a $100,000,000 bond issue for reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities or equipment related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation and transit, to be used to match an estimated $154,000,000 in federal and other funds?
This is a major triumph for transportation, and we again thank Governor LePage, Senator Alfond and Representative Mark Eves for standing up for what they believe in and for being willing to compromise. To quote the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find you get what you need.”
Finally, I would like to thank our MBTA members who spoke and wrote to their legislators urging support of the bond. As we have found time and time again, our leaders like to hear from us. They need to know what we think and why it is important to our families and our communities. So thank you for your efforts and for being heard. Now, let’s get to work. We have a bond to pass!