Friday, April 16, 2010

Legislature Sends Jobs Bond Questions to June Voters

The Maine Legislature has voted to send a $57.8 million jobs bond package to Maine voters. The House and Senate agreed to a bipartisan, compromise package on April 12 that is smaller than the one passed by a two-thirds majority in the House last week but, if passed by voters, will make substantial investments in Maine’s economic infrastructure and create or save thousands of jobs this construction season.
“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 compromise package, which was enacted by a vote of 102 to 44 in the House and 30 to 5 in the Senate, contains $24.8 million for road and bridge construction, $6.5 million for the construction of a deep-water port, $500K for the Small Harbor Improvement Program, $5 million for investments in advanced equipment for wind power at the University of Maine, and $5 million for the construction of a community-based teaching clinic operated by a college of dental medicine and for upgrades to health and dental care clinics around the state.
“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.”
The package, if approved by voters, also 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 the continent operational, preserving thousands of jobs there. The original bond package included $17 million for the preservation of the Aroostook County line. The compromise package includes a proposal to fund the acquisition of the rail line with a three-pronged approach. The package would ask voters to approve $7 million in bonds, which would be matched by $7 million in state funds from the Budget Stabilization Fund and $3 million from the shippers who utilize the line.
“It is imperative that we maintain these tracks,” said Rep. Ken Theriault (D- Madawaska.) “The number of businesses, communities and people that depend on these rails for the transport of lumber, wood chips, pulp wood, and heating fuels, are too numerous to count. Many businesses would lose their competitive edge if they are not able to receive and ship via rail. This abandonment will trickle down to many throughout the state. A state without rail in the North Country would not be inviting to new businesses, and the end result will be lost jobs.”
The $57.8 million package makes changes to questions that were already on the June ballot, reducing those by $13.5 million and $44.3 million in new proposed bonding. Items already on the June ballot that are being amended include the elimination of a proposal to bond $12 million for the weatherization of homes and businesses, reducing funding for the Working Waterfront program by $250K, reducing funding for the Small Enterprise Growth Fund by $1 million and reducing funding for the Maine Historic Preservation Commission by $250K.
According to the rating agency Standard and Poor’s, Maine has a “…favorable debt position with a low debt burden and rapid amortization of debt…” Maine has a low amount of debt per capita, ranking 33rd in nation according to Moody’s, and pays off debt over 10 years, rather than 30, like most states do.