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  • Gideon pushes to use liquor revenue for transportation needs - like bridges in need of repair

    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.

  • Speaker Eves: “Maine’s Comeback Story Depends on Good Jobs, Strong Wages”


    Op-Ed:

    By Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick                     

    Good jobs and strong wages.

    These were the priorities of the past year for Democrats and many Republicans in the Legislature. Maine’s comeback story will be written by our growing middle class, our vibrant entrepreneurs and those who are innovating our traditional industries.  

    I’m proud to report to you that lawmakers made good progress for working people in our state over the past year.  Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled members of the Legislature came together to put more money in the pockets of Maine families and to invest in our economic future.

    We passed a middle class tax cut -- More than 570,000 Maine families will see a lower tax bill next year.

    We doubled property tax relief -- for ALL Maine families, making it easier for seniors to keep their homes and for young families to realize the American dream.

    And we invested in our workers, our students and our children -- the VERY keys to our economic success.

    Maine continues to rank among the worst in the nation for job growth. Our wages lag the nation and New England.

    Lawmakers set out to help foster economic growth by investing in our workers and students and growing industries.  We conducted a bipartisan jobs tour across the state from York to Aroostook.

    The loggers in Rumford, the businesses and students in Presque Isle, the farmers in central Maine and the machinists in North Berwick all were telling us the same thing: Investing in our workforce is the best investment in our economic future.

    We listened, and we learned and we led.

    We created the Put ME to Work program, which helps workers get the skills and training they need for the jobs of the future.

    Investments such as these already have led to workers getting better paying jobs. Students from community college machinist programs, from York to Presque Isle, are graduating with jobs lined up at manufacturing companies paying more than $17 dollars per hour. These programs have a near 100 percent job placement rate.

    We also increased funding for our local public schools and early education programs, while working to make college more affordable.

    These are the steps that will help keep our young people here and attract new Mainers to our state. Economic progress is made when everyone has a fair shot at a good education.

    We made great strides for workers and students in our state. We did it by working with our colleagues across the aisle. This is the tradition of great Maine leaders and the way governing should be in our state.

    If we want to grow good jobs and strong wages in our state, we need to work together to invest in our people.  Maine’s comeback story depends on it.