Too Little, Too Late

MECEP supports the $149.5 million bond package that the Legislature will take up on Thursday. It includes funding for road and rail upgrades and expanded classrooms at Maine’s public universities. These investments will create jobs, speed up the shipment of goods in and out of the state, and improve the skills of Maine’s workers.  We need these jobs and economic gains to recover from the recession and build a strong workforce for the future.

But it may be too little, too late.

Roads slated to be fixed three years ago have deteriorated and will now be more costly to repair. Road conditions only grew worse while we waited. Now we have a greater backlog of projects. Transportation dollars will be stretched too thin trying to cover many more repair needs.

A national report estimates Maine has $1.5 billion in needed road and bridge repair costs and recommends an annual investment of $150 million to catch up. Maine’s average investment in roads over the past three years was only $33 million.  

Not only that, but as the state dawdled, it lost millions of federal funds that went to other states with more robust business plans, improving their roads at the expense of Maine roads.

Meanwhile Fitch Rating Services lowered the state’s approval rating for transportation bonds, raising the interest rates Mainers will pay in the future. Fitch cites Maine’s “sluggish” economy as one reason for the downgrade. What’s more, the lack of economic recovery is exacerbated by the state’s failure to make job creating infrastructure investments. Fitch also points to the governor and legislature’s reduction of the state’s gas tax. Maine uses these revenues to pay off some bonds and their loss will further restrict Maine’s ability to fix its roads.

While the governor refused to release voter-approved bond funds, community projects stalled. These are projects that would upgrade public buildings, make downtowns more vital, and attract new business.

And the governor and legislature continue to rebuff other investments that will help jumpstart Maine’s economy. Research and development investment will lead to innovative new products and services and new business start-ups. Public tourist amenities will enhance visitors’ experiences and keep them staying longer and coming back more often. Deferred funding for water and sewer upgrades to safeguard clean drinking water is bad news for businesses and residents alike.

As the Portland Press Herald said, “The deal recommended by the Appropriations Committee is better than no bonding at all, but it still leaves many state needs unmet.”

We agree. We support this latest compromise. We urge the legislature to send it to Maine voters. And we implore them to go back to work on the legislative bond proposals still in the hopper.  Maine’s economic recovery depends on it.