It is crunch time in the Legislature. With adjournment just a few days away, the big question remaining is whether or not Maine voters will have the opportunity to decide if more than 2,750 people go to work this construction season.
For voters to have that chance, two-thirds of the Senate must approve an $85 million jobs bond to be placed on the June ballot. The money will be spent building and rebuilding our roads and bridges, upgrading waste and drinking water facilities, establishing a dental school and making a significant investment in three rail lines across the state.
All of these projects are important to the entire state. Improving our infrastructure while putting people to work now is a proposition we simply cannot afford to pass up.
One of the projects is of particular concern to northern Maine. We all have heard of the proposed abandonment of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. This line carries more than freight; it supports jobs at more than 20 companies in Aroostook County that use it to ship their goods all over the world.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic is as much a lifeline as it is a railroad. More than 750 Maine people work at these 20 companies. Without the railroad it is widely believed that they will be at such a competitive disadvantage that those jobs would be at serious risk of disappearing. As we emerge from a recession, we cannot sit idly by and let hundreds more Maine people lose their jobs.
To prevent this, the bond package includes $17 million to purchase the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic tracks. This will allow freight rail service to continue in the region and dramatically improve the prospects of those 750 workers.
Some in the Legislature are saying that this is the wrong time for a jobs bond package and that the state simply cannot afford more investments in our infrastructure. There is a problem with this argument; it ignores the facts.
Over the years Maine has taken a conservative approach to borrowing. We only borrow to invest in our infrastructure and we pay our loans back over 10 years when most other states take 20 to 30. Moody’s Investor Services describe Maine’s debt load as “a modest fixed cost” and says the state maintains “capacity to accommo-date unforeseen borrowing needs.”
Standard & Poor’s, another bond rating agency, found that 41 states have more debt per capita than Maine. In New Hampshire there is $519 of debt for each person, in Connecticut it is $4,536, but in Maine it is just $361 per person, the lowest in New England
There is no better time than now to create jobs for Maine people and the jobs bond the Legislature is considering is an affordable plan.
Other parts of the package will not only create new jobs, they also will pay dividends for years to come. By committing $5 million to waste and drinking water projects we will draw down $26 million in federal matching funds. This money will help erase the backlog of projects that exists in every corner of our state.
The $34 million for road and bridge repairs will make it easier to ship goods throughout the state and strengthen the long-term viability of Maine’s economy.
As the Legislature winds up the 2010 session, all eyes will be watching to see if we make this smart, affordable investment in Maine’s infrastructure and Maine’s people. By saving 750 jobs in northern Maine and providing resources for much-needed projects across the state, we can put people to work this summer. Again, these are investments we simply must make.
Libby Mitchell is the president of the Maine Senate and a Democratic candidate for governor.