965b28c9df748b31-BONDPACKAGEGovernor John Baldacci introduces a job package that could employ 2,000 people. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Investment is key to job growth

By Ramona du Houx

March 11th, 2010

Anyone driving in Maine can see, and feel, the impact where the rubber meets the road. Communities across the state are in desperate need of roadwork. Governor John Baldacci would like the people of Maine to invest $28 million for highway projects, which is projected to support 750 construction jobs. The money would pay for about 14 miles of highway reconstruction and 31 miles of paving across the state.It’s part of a proposed bond package that includes a total of $62 million for highway, port and rail projects, and $17 million for environmental and energy needs. Every county in Maine would have projects underway this year if the proposal is approved, creating 1,998 jobs.

“It’s all about putting people back to work,” said Governor Baldacci. “Construction related employment has dropped twenty-five percent. We have great needs out there. We have the opportunity here, along with the federal grants we’ve been getting, and support in local communities, to be able to put people back to work. Investment is key to job growth.”

Years of fiscal responsibility under the Baldacci administration has lead to Maine having a AA bond rating by Standard & Poor, which means the state has a very strong capacity to meet financial commitments.

Baldacci added, “At this critical junction, we must be prepared to take action to make our State stronger and to promote economic growth. These are focused investments to build Maine’s economic capacity into the future while creating jobs today.”

Although Maine was the first state to receive federal stimulus money for transportation, which put people back to work last summer, all those funds have been used.

Transportation Commissioner David Cole said, “These are all bread-and-butter projects. They have the added benefit of creating jobs now.”

For Portland, $8 million for the Ocean Gateway Deep Water Pier could triple the cruises stopping to sightsee and shop. Baldacci said, “You’re talking about tourism and economic development streaming into Maine.”Critical to the economy of northern Maine is The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway in Aroostook County. The bond measure would keep open 240 miles of track. The company told the federal government that it plans to abandon the railroad as soon as this summer.

“Without these resources, 22 major employers and the largest county in the State would be cut off from rail service,” said Baldacci. “That is unacceptable. Jobs are at stake, and we must act.”

“This is the largest County east of the Mississippi river. It’s a huge wood basket. It can’t be shut off from freight rail. From an economic development standpoint you have to start with your assets and leverage them out, shutting down the line does the opposite,” added Cole.

The Maine Department of Labor reported unemployment in the State increased in January to 8.2 percent, up from 8.1 percent in December. Last year at this time, the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent.

“These investments will put people to work immediately,” said State Finance Commissioner Ryan Low. “They are projects that will improve the state’s infrastructure, at the same time they will help economic development.”

With bonding some projects will receive matching funds or more, from the federal government, communities and the private sector.

“The $2 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, will be matched by $10 million in federal funds and create an estimated 216 jobs,” said Roger Crouse at Department of Health and Human Services, in the drinking water department. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Potential transportation projects include:

• $28 million for highway reconstruction and paving: 750 jobs;
• $3 million for a municipal highway challenge grant: 80 jobs;
• $17 million for the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway in Aroostook County to preserve track. Without the investment, 750 to 1,000 jobs could be lost;
• $5 million for rail improvements in Lewiston-Auburn: 75 jobs;
• $8 million for the Ocean Gateway Deep Water Pier in Portland: 96 jobs;
• $1 million for grants from the Small Harbor Improvement Program: 26 jobs

Potential environmental and energy projects include:

• $3.2 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund: 307 jobs;
• $1.8 million for the Wastewater Treatment Facility Construction Grant: 28 jobs;
• $2 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund: 216 jobs or more;
• $5 million to support component manufacturing for wind energy generation at the University of Maine; vital for the clean energy economy
• $5 million to support the Maine Industrial Energy Efficiency Grant Program, which assists large companies with energy efficiency improvements and protects manufacturing jobs in the State: 320 jobs.