Wither our roads?

“Reversing the decline in state investment in transportation, public buildings, water treatment systems, and other forms of vital infrastructure is key to creating good jobs and promoting full economic recovery.”

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, It’s Time for States to Invest in Infrastructure, February 2016

With mud season right around the corner, our roads will once again be awash in pot holes knocking auto front-ends out of alignment and costing each Maine driver, on average, $300 a year more in car repairs.

As a town manager early in my career, I was on the receiving end of many a complaint about pot holes. Aside from property taxes being too high, the top thing townspeople grumbled about was pot holes.

Town road crews did their best to keep up, patching and filling, and when things got really bad, reconstructing the road from its base. But road construction is expensive, and its cost strained our community’s small capital budget.

With declining federal highway funds, the responsibility to keep our roads safe largely falls to state and local governments, which foot the bill for 75% of the cost of safeguarding our public capital nationally.

And in Maine, we have performed dismally in repairing our roads and bridges. We have also fallen behind in other investments critical to our economy, public safety, and quality of life. Maine’s capital spending as a share of gross domestic product has declined over the past ten years. Persistent shortfalls threaten our health and safety:

  • Over 60% of our roads are in poor condition; 366 of Maine’s 2,402 bridges are structurally deficient.
  • MaineDOT reports funding needs of $150 million per year over the next 10 years just to fix the worst of the state’s roads and bridges.
  • Local schools face a $1.7 billion capital funding gap; priority health and safety needs have been neglected.
  • Maine has $1.2 billion in drinking water and $1.0 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.

Why then does the governor, with every budget initiative, shortchange capital investments and seek to give more and more tax breaks to the wealthy when our public needs are so dire? Tax cuts will not stimulate our economy. Tax cuts will only take money away from schools, roads, water and sewer plants, and other capital infrastructure that businesses need to start-up and grow. We need to stop cutting taxes for the wealthiest individuals and use the funds instead to fix our broken roads and rundown schools.

As another recent Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report found:

“Public investments that help build a skilled workforce and improve the quality of life for local residents are better bets―successful entrepreneurs report these factors are key to where they founded their companies.”

Our legislative leaders must stand up for Maine people and Maine communities, and invest in public assets that will enhance our economy’s ability to grow.