Maine has gone one year without passing a bond package and we should not go another.

That’s why it is critical for legislators to act to pass the $95.6 million package put together last month by legislative committee.

Gov. Paul LePage, who adamantly opposed last year’s package, should then stand clear and allow voters to decide how much to invest in Maine’s future.

The package includes five separate bonds, with more than half of the money going directly to transportation projects, which are almost always approved by Maine voters.

The biggest chunk of that $51 million — $36 million — would go straight to highway and bridge repairs and another $5 million to rural road projects.

That means four-fifths of the transportation money would make Maine’s roadways smoother and safer. With a $33 million federal match, that will create hundreds of badly needed construction jobs.

Other job-creation projects include: $3 million for dredging Searsport harbor; $1.5 for industrial rail; $1.5 for Eastport warehousing; $1.2 million for aviation projects; $1 million for transit bus programs and $300,000 for LifeFlight helipad expansions.

A separate bond includes $20 million for research and development projects bid through the Maine Technology Institute. Maine perpetually underfunds R & D, which seriously slows our transition to a high-tech economy.

Another bond would apply $11.3 million to higher education projects, including $8 million for the University of Maine Animal Health Lab; $3 million for the Maine Community College System expansion and $500,000 for the Maine Maritime Academy.

Again, more Mainers will need more training to qualify not only for existing jobs but for jobs of the future.

Another bond includes about $8 million for water and sewer projects and the fifth bond will help the Land for Maine’s Future program protect deer wintering yards for hunting and recreation.

Many of the bonds will be matched by federal funds: nearly $16 million for drinking water projects, doubling our in-state portion; another $20 million for research and development; $5 more million for land preservation and between $11 and $14 million for education.

Yes, we know this is not “free” money; taxpayers also foot the bill for the federal matching funds.

But each year we do not approve bond proposals, that matching money either goes to another state or disappears forever. In this case, we will be waving goodbye to more than $40 million in federal money.

Todd Gabe, professor of economics at the University of Maine, says the total package will result in more than $136 million of direct economic activity and at least $95 million in indirect activity, for a total of more than $232 million.

The five-part package would result in more than 800 direct jobs and about another 1,000 indirect jobs. That will put more than $75 million into the pockets of Maine workers.

This employment and spending on construction will be particularly important as Central Maine Power’s massive power transmission reliability project wraps up, a project that has provided a significant number of construction jobs in recent years.

As the governor has pointed out, the projects will add annual interest and principal payments to the state budget. But Maine’s tax-supported debt is $865 per resident, about 20 percent less than the national average.

The governor has advocated having the public approve all new debt, and this package will require statewide approval.

LePage should sign the entire package and allow voters to make the final decision in November.


For more on the issue:

* Commentary by Maine Center for Economic Policy Executive Director Garrett Martin.

* Detail on Lands for Maine’s Future Proposal.

* Doug Rooks analysis of governor’s position on 2012 bonds.

* Maine Chamber supports bond package.

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