Endings and beginnings
As the legislative session ends without a bond for voters, MBTA sets stage for new public awareness initiative
By Thomas Gorrill, MBTA President
A Roman philosopher once wrote: “From the end spring new beginnings.” That thought has been in my mind with the close of the 126th Maine Legislature.
For those of us who care deeply about improving Maine’s transportation infrastructure, the 126th Maine Legislature began very well. Several transportation bond proposals were introduced, and there was a promising proposal to rejigger a portion of Maine’s fuel tax to create a sales tax. That bore similarities to innovative transportation funding legislation passed this year in Virginia and Maryland which promises to bring in new revenue for those states’ roads and bridges. We thank Governor LePage, Transportation Committee Chairs Edward Mazurek and Ken Theriault and Representative Ann Peoples for their vision and hard work on these bills. Unfortunately, the bonds are still on hold and the fuel tax proposal was struck down before it could be debated on the floor of the legislature.
A new Maine State Police funding arrangement, written into the Highway Fund budget and championed by Governor LePage, was a definite bright spot. The MBTA has worked hard to bring that issue to the forefront, and it was gratifying to see that hard work yielded results when the budget passed. With State Police funding now equitably distributed between the Highway Fund (35 percent) and the General Fund (65 percent), there will be an estimated $6.5 million more in the state’s highway and bridge budget.
The most disappointing development of the session? The legislature adjourned without sending a transportation bond to voters in November.
This was particularly worrisome because MaineDOT had incorporated $100 million in bond funding into its budget. Now, without a bond, the department may have to cut projects from an already barebones work plan. More than a hundred capital road and bridge projects are at risk (MaineDOT’s list of at risk projects is on line at www.MBTAonline.org
With that less-than-ideal ending to the legislative session in mind, I want to look ahead to all the good work that is just beginning for the MBTA.
I am privileged to serve this organization that has a long history of advocating for safer, more efficient transportation throughout our state. At the MBTA annual meeting I said I had two initiatives I would like to see through this year.
The first is to work with my fellow MBTA board members to update our strategic plan. The last time we updated it was in 2007 under the leadership of past president Tim Folster. The world has changed a great deal since then. So has the way most of us run our organizations. The MBTA has changed, as well.
We will be calling on members to help in the planning process. If you would like to be a part of this effort, please let me or Maria Fuentes, our executive director, know. MBTA does not serve a specific industry. We advocate for transportation infrastructure funding. We look to our members, to other organizations and partners to support us with this mission.
The second goal I have set for myself and MBTA is to continue the work my predecessor Doug Hermann launched – the Fix It NOW! campaign.
In the coming months, we will be working with MBTA senior policy advisor John Melrose to develop an estimate of the long-term funding needed to keep our transportation system competitive, and to come up with recommendations for sustainable transportation funding.
Beyond that, we will be developing a plan on how to better communicate that need to the traveling public. The ultimate goal of Fix It NOW! is to establish a coalition of community leaders and organizations who can make the case for developing sources of sustainable transportation funding – businesses, community and other groups that depend on a safe transportation network – know its worth and will fight to make Maine’s roads and bridges better. We also will develop the research and tools those partners will need to take the message of efficiency, safety, economic development and sustainability to the streets.
Today I can report the Fix It NOW! campaign is off to a good start. So far, we’ve had strong response from our members and we have raised more than $36,000 towards our short-term goal of $75,000.
This is a good time to begin a major initiative. The need is there, and so is the drive to make this happen. Thank you all for your generous support for MBTA and the work we do. We couldn’t get it done without you.