Op-ed by Rep. Mark Eves, Speaker of the Maine House

September 27, 2013

Sooner and more. These were the wise words from former state economist Charlie Colgan when advising lawmakers on Maine’s enormous need to invest in our state’s infrastructure.

In recent weeks, Colgan’s words have been echoed by economic experts and industry leaders across the state: Now is the time to invest in our people, places and things. With low interest rates, lagging job creation and infrastructure in disrepair, Maine is at the intersection of need and opportunity.

That’s why it is so critically important that Maine people approve the nearly $150 million jobs bond package strongly endorsed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.

“With 26 percent unemployed in the construction sector, and we’re sitting on bonds that can put people back to work immediately, they should be released,” said Rep. Mark Eves. Photo by Ramona du Houx

The bonds would invest in critical infrastructure in our state, from our roads and bridges to our higher education facilities and our armories.

This investment is not just about the bricks and mortar on our buildings or the concrete and asphalt on our roads and bridges. These investments will help the people and businesses that rely on our roads, the workers that train at our schools and the businesses that rely on those workers.

This critical investment will help our economy now by putting people back to work fixing our infrastructure and help build our workforce for the future.

In November, Maine voters will be asked to approve five borrowing proposals:
• $100 million for investment in roads, bridges, ports and working waterfronts;
• $35.5 million for upgrades to higher education facilities, including science, nursing, and lab improvements. The investment for higher education includes $15.5 million for upgrades at community colleges across the state, $15.5 million for the University of Maine System, and $4.5 million for the Maine Maritime Academy to build a new science facility.
• $14 million for armory maintenance and renovations.

Bonds will help in transportation and education infrastructure. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Needed investment in our Roads, Bridges & Ports

If you have driven in Maine, you know how badly our roads need repair. Maine drivers spend on average more than $300 each year repairing their vehicles due to damage by our crumbling roads. The American Society for Civil Engineers recently gave our infrastructure a C- grade.

A safe and strong transportation network is the foundation of a growing economy. Our businesses rely on our roads, bridges, and ports to move their products across the state and our working people depend on them to get to their jobs. Problems with roads can damage our cars, block trucking routes, and more seriously cause fatalities. Lawmakers cannot control Maine’s tough weather conditions that harm our roads but we must prioritize funding to fix them.

Likewise, Maine’s ports and working waterfronts are in need of improvements that will boost economic development in a critical area of the state’s economy. These improvements will also reduce the cost of transportation of goods and services statewide, making Maine more competitive.

Needed investment in Higher Education facilities

Like our roads and bridges, the state’s higher education facilities are in desperate need of repair. These buildings are the training grounds for our workforce of today and tomorrow. Yet, they are outdated and in disrepair.

Seventy percent of the buildings in the University of Maine System have not been renovated in 25 years. Precision machining labs at our community colleges are 30 years old. How can we expect employers to grow jobs in Maine, if our labs and classrooms are unable to keep pace with the changing economy?

If this bond passes, York County Community College will see classroom equipment upgrades for its new precision machining program. For North Berwick workers at the Pratt & Whitney manufacturing plant, this will translate to more jobs. The program will help train workers at the plant, which is expanding manufacturing of fighter jet engines for the U.S. military. This is a perfect example of how investment in education and our workforce will help bolster Maine’s economy, create jobs and move our state forward.

York County Community College’s precision machining program is just one example of the kinds of -public-private partnerships that can grow from investment in education. These relationships between higher education and private industry are critical for strengthening our economy.

For generations, Maine has been known worldwide for the skills of her shipbuilders and sea captains, and for leadership in every phase of maritime affairs. Yet, the Maine Maritime Academy, hasn’t built a new building in 30 years. During that time, its population has tripled and demand for skilled workers has increased. If the bond $4.5 million bond for the academy passes, it will be matched by private dollars to complete the building.

The Maritime academy needs a new building, an engineering science and research building so that it can adequately prepare Maine citizens for the careers they will have — to continue to grow, modernize and innovate Maine’s great maritime tradition and heritage.

Needed Investment in our Armories

When it comes to our workforce, Maine’s service members and veterans are renown. But the condition of our armories is shameful and inadequate. For the past decade, Maine armories have been underfunded, resulting in operational shortfalls, deferred maintenance, repairs, modernization and replacement of certain facilities.

Our service members shouldn’t have to drill in makeshift areas or work in un-insulated buildings or near areas closed-off because of lead contamination. They shouldn’t have to travel to Vermont or Massachusetts to receive training because Maine’s facilities aren’t up to standard.

They need and deserve better.

We urge the people of Maine to support these investments. Our economy can’t afford to miss this opportunity to grow.