October 16, 2012

Road crews working on highway I-95. Bonds this November will go to transportation jobs, education and the environment. photo by Ramona du Houx

Bonds have been absent from statewide ballots since June 2010 because Gov. Paul LePage and the Republican-controlled Legislature discouraged bonds and dispute the fact that they create jobs and grow the economy.

This November five bond issues will be on the ballot, worth $76 million. The investment would receive $150 million in federal, private, and other matching grants.

LePage vetoed a $20 million bond for research and development. In the past, these investments have led to breakthroughs in technologies in Maine, helping to create new businesses in Maine and gain the state an international reputation in science and technology. Jackson Laboratories, Bigelow Laboratories, the University of Maine composites center all have received bond funds in the past, leading to inventions and innovations that are now world renowned.

“To encourage prosperity and ingenuity we have to prepare our state, our economy, and our people for the demands of the future. We should be doing all we can to encourage innovation, create job opportunities, and create the success stories of tomorrow. With this veto, the governor yet again turned his back on what’s best for the people of Maine,” said Sen. Justin Alfond.

LePage took an unusual step and suggested that the state find the money for R&D out of the operating costs of state government. That is like saying, “Just buy the house outright; we don’t need to bother with a low-interest mortgage.” The money to purchase a house doesn’t appear overnight, just as funds to invest in R&D aren’t easily available. That’s why bonding is the normal course of action to invest in the R&D that drives innovation and job creation.

“This veto was shortsighted and bad for business,” said Rep. Emily Cain, the House Democratic leader. “Investments in R&D have paid off. They boost business, create jobs, and help our fishermen, farmers, and boat builders.”

Every $1 from R&D bonds leverages another $1.70 in matching funds from Maine companies and supporting organizations.

These bond proposals that will be on the ballot:

• $51 million to fund highway and bridge repairs;
• $11.3 million in higher education funds mainly for the state’s community colleges;
• $8 million in water and sewer projects;
• $5 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program — to purchase land for conservation, forestry, and recreational use.

However, the governor stated that even if the people vote for these bonds, he would not issue them possibly for several years, even though they would create needed construction jobs immediately.

“Even with the voters’ authorization to borrow this money, my administration will not spend it until we’ve lowered our debt significantly. That could be several years,” said LePage.

The state treasurer’s office ultimately puts Maine’s bonds on the market for sale, but the governor can keep that process from happening. The treasurer and governor need to sign a financial order before bonds can be issued and sold, so either officer can withhold his signature.

“If we don’t make these public investments now, we will be missing an opportunity to create jobs,” Rep. Peggy Rotundo said after the Legislature approved the bond package.

If voters approve any of the bond issues, the state has five years to go to market with them.