These bonds need voter approval June 8th

By Ramona du Houx

April 14th, 2010 ·

037ada44da7acb4b-wbonds2Governor John E. Baldacci signs the job creation bond package legislation which will need voter approval in June, 2010. Photo by Ramona du Houx

In a national climate where political parties have polarized issues, Maine stands apart. A $57.8 million bond package that focuses on job creation bonds was finalized by the Legislature April 12th and will be sent to voters June 8th. The bond package came out of the Appropriations Committee asking the legislature to approve $85 million in investment bonds but Republicans in the State Senate could not agree on that figure. In weekend talks, with Governor Baldacci and legislative leadership, a compromise was hammered out.

“These bonds will put people to work this year, make critical investments in highways, rails and ports, and strengthen our economy,” said the Governor. “This sends a powerful message to our citizens, that in our state Democrats and Republicans work together, in a bipartisan spirit. The end result wasn’t a hundred million, and it wasn’t zero. It was the right step, given the times that we are in. I credit Sen. President Libby Mitchell, Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree, Sen. Minority leader Kevin Raye and House Minority Leader Josh Tardy for their leadership. Working together we forged a path, which was able to bring everyone together.”

The bipartisan bond package was enacted by a vote of 102 to 44 in the House and 30 to 5 in the Senate.

With $24.8 million slated for highway construction and repair people will be put to work immediately. These infrastructure projects will take place in every county of the state.

“Putting people to work was our number one goal,” said Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell. “While I would have preferred to invest $85 million and put more people to work, this package will still make it possible for thousands of Maine people to earn paychecks this summer.”

The package, if approved by voters, would include funding for the preservation of several key rail lines around the state. Most notably, the package includes a plan for keeping a section of rail connecting Aroostook County to the rest of Maine operational, preserving up to 1,722 jobs.

“This bond package has a large focus on transportation; railroad infrastructure not only in Aroostook County but also in Lewiston/Auburn, and the Mountain division. It will help the mega birth in Portland – which will triple the cruse line business in Maine,” said Governor Baldacci.

Maine’s green energy economy will benefit from needed funds to progress the research in wind energy technology being done at the University of Maine.

“With additional funds for research and development in wind energy we are continuing to lead the way,” said Baldacci.

The dental health of the people of Maine will be enhanced with a bond that will go to voters in November.

“It will be a huge boon to rural dental clinics by beefing up dental education and building clinics in rural Maine,” said the Governor. “This job creation package is tightly focused and moves Maine ahead.”

The bond package includes:

· $24.8 million in highway construction and repair;
· $7 million to purchase the Montréal Maine Railroad line;
· $5 million to expand rail service in Lewiston-Auburn;
· $4 million to help restore rail service in Western Maine along the Mountain Division Line;
· $6.5 million for a new deep-water port in Portland;
· $500,000 for the Small Harbor Improvement Program;
· $5 million for the advanced equipment for the University of Maine to build a component manufacturing sector for wind power; and
· $5 million for a community-based teaching clinic operated by a college of dental medicine and for upgrades to community-based health and dental care clinics around the State.

In addition, the agreement includes up to $7 million in cash that was originally slated for the State’s Budget Stabilization Fund to purchase the Montréal Maine Railroad line. Shippers who use the MMR rail line have agreed to put in the final $3 million to provide the balance of the $17 million resources necessary for the purchase of the line.

The Governor issued an Executive Order to create an oversight panel that will monitor and review elements of the take over of the MMR rail line. The panel will assure transparency and guide policy questions during the transition to a new operator, and will include representatives of the Executive and Legislative Branches as well as private sector and nonprofit economic development representatives.

Proponents of the MMR railroad plan have predicted that the loss of freight rail into northern Maine would cause negative ripple effects throughout the state’s forest products, manufacturing and agriculture industries.

“This is a timely and targeted jobs package that will make key investments in our infrastructure and keep Maine people working,” said Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree. “Unemployment is too high. We need to ensure that this summer is a busy one for Maine’s construction industry. This is a package that we can afford and one that we need to send out to Maine voters.”