Lawmakers approve $95.7M bond package to spur jobs and innovation

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

May 19th, 2012 

Five bond proposals that would make needed investments in Maine’s roads and bridges, colleges and universities, research and development, land conservation, and waste water and drinking water treatment passed the legislature in May. The House and Senate gave two-thirds majority votes of approval to each of the proposed bonds.

“A jobs bond will give our economy a much needed shot in the arm,” said Rep. Emily Cain, the House Minority leader. “The best way to improve our economy is by making more investments that will help small businesses, job training and public education.”

Maine has lost more than 1,000 jobs since 2011 and was recently rated 50th for personal income growth according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The Legislature approved a total $95.6 million in bond proposals, which Democrats say will create immediate jobs now and set the foundation for economic growth in the future.

The bond proposal includes:

• $51 million for transportation improvements,
• $20 million for research and developments,
• $11.3 million for higher education,
• $7.9 million for water and waste water treatment; and
• $5 million for land conservation.

The proposals will be sent to the voters for approval on the November ballot.

“If we don’t make these public investments now, we will be missing an opportunity to create jobs,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, the lead House Democrat on the Appropriations committee. “Public investment will create jobs now and grow good-paying jobs for our future. We have the money to make targeted investments now.”

According to the non-partisan fiscal experts from the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review, the state has the capacity to make public investments in bonds for voters to approve. Debt service payments from 2013 to 2015 will decline by nearly $30 million, lowering the state’s payments on debt and increasing the capacity to borrow.

Maine has a track record of conservative bonding and has historically paid down its debt quickly. The state typically bonds for 10 years, not 20 or 30 as other states do. Debt service is typically between 4-7 percent of the General Fund.

“We need real investments that will improve our roads, bridges, and classrooms,” said Assistant Democratic Leader Justin Alfond, who added that Maine voters “deserve an opportunity to decide on the investment priorities for this state.”

Last year Republican lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage refused to send a bond package to voters despite Democratic pressure for bonds to spur economic development and create jobs.

“It was completely reckless for the state of Maine not to bond last year,” said Sen. Cynthia Dill. “The need for infrastructure improvements was critical.”

According to Department of Labor statistics, Maine has lost 500 construction jobs from February to March this year alone.

“In the last year, Maine people have seen a continued drain on our jobs and income. Responsible bonding is a sure-fire way to get people back to work.” said Sen. Dawn Hill of York, who serves on the Appropriations committee.

Republican’s said they would not approve a bond package that was more than $100 million.

This year enough Republican lawmakers changed their position on a bond package.

“This is one of the keys to growth in the state of Maine,” said Sen. Chris Rector, a Republican. “I know we all want an economy that’s growing, that’s robust.”

Gov. LePage is out of the state and will review the bond proposal when he returns. If he approves of the bonds it will be up to voters to decide in November.