Oped by Ramona du Houx
Throughout the pandemic, the people of Maine have shown resiliency, courage, compassion and just how our communities are the backbone of our democracy. Mainers are open hearted, selfless and look out for each other. The day-to-day acts of courage in the state during this time should give us all hope. From restaurants giving food to healthcare workers, to people donating food and resources for families in need, we have stepped up.
We trust our local and state government to provide avenues to build the economy back, understanding the needs brought into focus from the pandemic. We’re not naive, our trust has a foundation. Maine has already been transformed. Our downtowns and local communities have built their creative economies. We’ve fostered organic farms, invested in technologies that have grown businesses and started a clean energy revolution – all because our communities worked with local and state government.
In 2008, Maine state government strengthened our historic rehabilitation tax credit and kicked off a Renaissance. Coupled with the federal historic tax credit classic buildings were restored, as it became cost competitive to bring back these buildings to their glory instead of erecting new structures. Blighted buildings turned into affordable housing, offices and artisan spaces, shops and restaurants. Preserving these classic Maine properties spurred other investments in our downtowns creating jobs, and generating $13 million per year in ongoing income to families living in these communities. The renovations have added over $166 million to local property tax rolls, including $17 million in new property tax payments since 2010.
The state issued grants to help restore sidewalks, put up proper signage and helped community organizations. Neglected downtowns became shopping, dining and entertainment destinations. A wide range of jobs for talented people were created and the quality of life improved.
Maine has some of the best research and development laboratories in the world, that have helped create startup businesses, which would not have happened without state and local government working in tandem.
Now, the state is recognized as a place one can find quality crafted goods, from wood workers, boat builders, and countless artisans. We lead the nation in organic regenerative farming and have destination foodie restaurants. Travelers from around the globe come to Maine for our historic renovated downtowns, art, concerts, gourmet restaurants and hospitality.
We’ve been successful in Maine with our creative economy approach because we never lost sight of its three tenants: talent, technology, and tolerance. In the decade to come we’ve pressing challenges ahead. But we reclaimed our past, improved our present and by doing so created a strong foundation for continued growth.
The pandemic has shown us how imperative it is for our children’s educations and for workers to have the best broadband available. It’s time to finish the job and ensure the entire state is covered with broadband. It’s also a tremendous opportunity for growth as more Americans have realized they don’t need to commute and many prefer working from home. Many are moving here, last year home sales went up 29 percent.
Our educational system has to become equitable. We can’t have one school district able to have the state-of-the-art teaching systems because their tax base can pay for it, while other rural areas struggle. We had an approach under the John Baldacci administration, but it was repealed under Gov. LePage. It’s time to level the playing field for the future of Maine—our children.
We need to extend passenger rail. The state used to have rail service to small towns. There was even an express from New York to Bar Harbor. The tracks are still there, they can be rehabilitated so Rockland, Bangor, and all points on the campus can have passenger rail again. A modern transportation system will attract people from around the globe and help keep young talent here. We could become part of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) that 12 states and the District of Columbia have been working on for years. It would bring in millions to help rebuild the states failing transportation infrastructure, as well as fund electric cars cutting our greenhouse gas emissions. TCI is modeled after the success Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), Maine is a part off.
Our participation in RGGI has brought in close over $120 million for weatherization, and energy efficiency for homes and business since 2008. But we need to ensure every home and business is weatherized. We can become energy independent because we have created pathways to make it happen.
Climate change is here, and with it the sea is rising and ocean acidification threatens our fisheries. Many experts have predicted an influx of new residents, fleeing from extreme weather conditions. While the state’s new plan is promising it neglects entrance to TCI.
It’s imperative we continue to support the University of Maine’s offshore floating wind turbine technology for future jobs and our quality of life. With offshore wind turbines generating power our electricity rates will decrease dramatically. In Canada, homes are heated by cheap electricity. In Maine we’re still too dependent on fossil fuels.
Much of our progress depends on the spirit of the people of Maine. It depends on their judgement too. Many of the initiatives described here would never have happened if they didn’t vote to back bond issues. In the coming decade we will need more bond issues for research and development, transportation, education and to foster our established creative economy. It has been shown that once the state invests in a project, the federal government and private partners follow. Right now, interest rates are at their lowest they’ve ever been. The sooner we get started the better.
The future of Maine is one of a unified caring community. One that recognizes an individual’s talent and fosters them. One that believes in helping each other during good and bad times. One that continues to work and play together, to better our society, our democracy, for all. Maine has the can-do loving spirit that makes our state special. We rose up to vote, over 77 percent did in the last election. We’ll rise up to grow back our economy, making it more equitable and resilient.