Baldacci eyes $3.6B stimulus

Posted Jan. 05, 2009, at 7:39 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — In a letter to President-elect Barack Obama, Gov. John Baldacci argues for an expansive stimulus package that would bring at least $3.6 billion into Maine over the next two years.

“Where I am coming from is trying to develop a package that works along the lines the president-elect and his team has put forward,” Baldacci said in an interview. “Trying to make sure that these are shovel-ready, trying to make sure they are sustainable, trying to make sure they will not only help in the short term, but will help in the long term with our economy.”

In his letter, the governor urged substantial investments in both traditional infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and buildings, as well as nontraditional infrastructure such as fiber-optic communications and electric transmission lines.

For Maine, the largest investment would be for school construction and repair and totals $1.88 billion. The second-largest investment would be for roads and bridges and would total $500 million over two years. Other transportation projects from airports to walking trails add up to another $186.9 million.

The governor wants $250 million to repair, upgrade and the weatherize state facilities from office buildings to state parks, and $130 million for water and sewer projects that are “shovel-ready.”

The letter also outlines a $200 million loan program for businesses to improve their energy efficiency and $115 million to expand fiber-optic communications infrastructure into rural Maine. It also lists a $100 million expansion of the state’s electric transmission grid and funding for the first year of a “bold” 10-year plan to wea-therize every home in the state. That first-year cost is pegged at $72 million.

“We also need to make sure we keep providing the services that are in greater demand in this recession,” Baldacci said.

To make sure that is accomplished, the governor said he wants an expansion of the federally funded food stamp program as well as training programs to provide new skills to workers that have lost their jobs. He also wants an increase in the federal share of Medicaid that would reduce the state cost by at least $100 million a year.

He also suggests the federal government should at last meet its commitment to fund 40 percent of special education in local schools. Maine now gets $50 million and would need an additional $86 million a year to reach the 40 percent goal.

“We have to invest in our future,” Baldacci said. “We have to get our economy growing again.”

To do that, he has urged the federal government to expand loan programs for higher education and provide funding for new buildings at both the community college system and the University of Maine System.

“We are trying to use the latest information on the bills that are under consideration in Congress and by the transition team in putting our proposals together,” Baldacci said. “This has to be a comprehensive effort.”

The governor did not leave local governments out of his proposals. In addition to the school-related items, he is proposing a federal grant for a $500 million program to help pay for various infrastructure needs for local business parks, from sidewalks to building construction.

He also said there are “up to” $337 million in building and technology needs at libraries, historic sites, arts facilities and museums throughout the state.

“While many federal programs are helpful in moving the economy, it is the states whose programs can provide immediate, tangible results in putting people to work and building the architecture for a strong economy,” Baldacci wrote.

Several Democratic governors urged a $1 trillion stimulus package last week, but Baldacci did not sign on to that effort. He said many of the items being proposed did not fit within the parameters established by Obama in his talks last month with the governors of both parties, and Baldacci believes the package needs bipartisan support.

“I appreciate what they are proposing,” he said. “But I thought it important to stay within the ideas being proposed by the Obama transition team and that is what we have done.”

In addition to the state stimulus provisions, members of Obama’s transition team are urging a large package of tax cuts totaling about $300 billion.

Under the transition team proposal, most workers would get a $500 payroll tax credit, as Obama campaigned for last year. There also would be tax incentives for businesses to create jobs and make equipment purchases more affordable.

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