Maine lawmakers pass R&D bond and highway bond, together worth $150 million

R&D funding leads to discoveries that are putting Maine on the map. R&D bonds help these Laboratory facilities throughout Maine. A $50million bond of R&D will be on the ballot.


 By Ramona du Houx

The Legislature approved two bond packages, by super majority, for $150 million to pay for transportation projects as well as research and development (R&D) initiatives.

The $100 million transportation bond proposal will appear on the November ballot while the $50 million R&D bond package will go to voters in June 2017. Both packages have a veto-approved majority, which should be able to cancel out LePage’s possible veto.

The R&D bond proposal, L.D. 1053, would provide $45 million to the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) as well as $5 million to the Maine Venture Fund (MVF). The funds would be used to help R&D firms within the state to invest in infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades.

"This bipartisan bond is a remarkable achievement by the 127th Legislature.  Both MTI and MVF are exemplary, industry-led programs. They award funds based on the best proposals and business plans, not who has the best lobbyists to earmark funds for a specific institution," said Former State House Majority Leader Rep. Seth Berry. "All of Maine should celebrate today and thank our elected leaders for this strong signal that Maine is moving forward."

Bond research and development projects help fuel economic development by expanding research and commercialization activities, and attracting additional federal funding. Spin-off companies created from the innovation R&D investments make also help develop Maine’s skilled workforce, and create technology jobs.

Governor John Baldacci and lawmakers took a Brookings Report on where to invest in Maine for growth to heart in 2008 and approved the new Maine Technology Asset Fund (MTAF). Voters then overwhelmingly said yes at the polls to successive bond funding rounds in 2008, 2009 and 2010 for MTAF bond backed grants awarded by MTI.

According to a University of Southern Maine report, over 2007-2008, $7.1 million in MTI grants leveraged over $117 million in other public and private funds for research and product development, or $14.27 for every $1.00 in MTI funding. Not many investment give that much return.

In 2010 MTI was one of four national recipients of the Excellence in Technology-Based Economic Development Award from the State Science and Technology Institute, a national nonprofit organization that leads efforts to improve state and regional economies through science, technology and innovation.

Reserach vessel working on behalf of Bigelow Labortories, Bigelow was helped by voter approved bonds.

MTI received the award for its MTAF, a voter-approved bond funded program that supports research, development and commercialization of technologies that boost Maine’s economy and create high-paying jobs.

In presenting the award n 2010, SSTI’s President and CEO, Dan Berglund said, “The Maine Technology Asset Fund stands out for its ability to build R&D collaborations between universities, companies and nonprofit research institutions. Our awards committee was highly impressed by the impact the program is having in just three years of existence.”

“This award really acknowledges the people of Maine, the Baldacci administration, the Legislature and Maine’s innovation community,” said Betsy Biemann, who was then the President of MTI as she received the award. “Maine committed to make a bold investment in our entrepreneurs, researchers and in the talents and ingenuity of our workforce. This award recognizes the work of the innovative businesses and research organizations that have applied for these highly competitive funds, leveraged their awards with private investment and Federal grants, and collaborated, often across sectors, to develop new technologies and economic activity across our state.”

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences built its new Center for Blue Biotechnology, a world-class marine science facility transferring Bigelow’s discoveries into commercial products and industry partnerships with MTAF funding, matching grants and investments. Jackson Laboratories in Bar Harbor in 2010 opened a new research facility funded in part by MTAF grant.

R&D is an area of investment that spurs economic growth and creates jobs with higher wages. It’s also an area of contention with Governor LePage. One of the reasons the Maine economy is suffering from stagnation is LePage’s inability to understand the value of R&D funding.

“Research and development are critical for attracting new jobs to our state, and to training the workforce to fill those jobs,” said Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, the lead Senate Democrat on the Labor, Research, Commerce and Economic Development Committee. “Recently, Maine has lagged behind the rest of New England in these critical investments for our future, and I’m happy to support this bond to get us back on track.”

The House approved the R&D bond on a vote of 134-10 while the Senate voted 28-4.

The transportation bond would:

• $80 million for highway and bridge construction, reconstruction or rehabilitation, $52 million of which would flow toward bridge projects.

• $20 million for improvements to ports, harbors, railroads, airports, bicycle-pedestrian paths and transit facilities.

The transportation bond proposal passed by overwhelming majorities in both chambers.

“Investing in these two critical areas will make Maine more competitive,” said Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond. “There are many ways we could have chosen to invest in our state, but these two areas are among the most critical toward helping Mainers prosper.”