Maine State Capitol, photo by Ramona du Houx
By Ramona du Houx
Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon is appealing the Legislative Council’s rejection of her bill to strengthen Maine’s transportation system to reap both short- and long-term economic benefits for the state.
As the Legislature determines which bills will be considered in the second session, a new report is underscoring Maine’s pressing transportation needs. Fifteen percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and 18 percent are functionally obsolete, according to the report by TRIP.
Earlier this year, the Maine Department found that current funding levels are at only half the levelneeded to maintain the safety and integrity of state bridges.
Inspecting the Augusta bridge in 2007, with the MDOT and Gov. John Baldacci. Since then the bridge has been strengthened because of Baldacci's bonds. Photo by Ramona du Houx
A survey by a national transportation group found that 15 percent of Maine bridges have some structural deficiency. The report found that 364 of the state’s bridges had structural deficiencies and another 432 were functionally obsolete, meaning they don’t meet modern design standards, out of a total 2,419 bridges over 20 feet long that were surveyed.
Under the Baldacci administration bridges were upgraded and emergency bonds put into action. In addition new technologies like Dr. Habib Dagher's "bridge-n-a-backpack" were used to construct stronger, more durable and more easy to maintain bridges.
LR 2488, An Act To Revitalize Infrastructure Investment To Create Jobs, would use revenue from the state liquor contract to address emergency transportation infrastructure needs, including maintenance of and improvements to Maine’s network of roads and bridges network.
“The liquor contract provides a unique opportunity to improve our roads and bridges, help businesses move their goods more effectively and boost the construction sector,” said Gideon, D-Freeport. “There's broad bipartisan consensus that Maine’s economy cannot reach its full potential without a robust transportation system and that the elimination of the income tax, which benefits the wealthiest, would lead to higher property and sales taxes for the rest of us. We need to ask ourselves, ‘What are our priorities?’”
Maine’s roads also are in dire need of attention. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave a “D” grade to the state’s roads, 83 percent of which are in fair to unacceptable condition.
The new state liquor contracts are yielding higher profits that expected. The first year resulted in $46 million in additional profit, which puts the state on track to exceed the $450 million in profits originally expected over 10 years.
Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Republican Party are proposing to use the additional profit to lower and eventually eliminate the state income tax.
Bills submitted for the second session of the Legislature need approval from the Legislative Council to advance. The Legislative Council voted 5-5 on Gideon’s bill last week.
Of the nearly 400 bills submitted for the 2016 legislative session, 33 received the green light. The Legislative Council will consider appeals when it meets Nov. 19.