Families borrow to buy houses and cars and pay for college education. States borrow to pay for infrastructure such as water and sewer systems, rebuilding roads and bridges and for research and development initiatives that lay the foundation for economic growth. The four bond issues voters are asked to approve at the June 8 election fall into these categories, and they have the added bonus of helping stimulate the sluggish economy. Though Maine’s finances have been ravaged by the recession, and challenges remain with pension liabilities and a loss of federal stimulus funding next year, all four bonds should be approved.
Question 2 seeks to borrow $26.5 million to fund a bright hope for Maine’s future: its development of off-shore wind electricity. Though wind power is a recent and still-developing technology, it is a nice fit for Maine in that it is tied to our renewable natural resources — the steady winds in the Gulf of Maine. In addition to selling electricity, Maine stands to benefit by growing a manufacturing sector to produce wind power hardware. The money, which will leverage $24.5 million in federal and other funds, also will pay for energy efficiency work at the university and community college system campuses and at Maine Maritime Academy.
Question 3 borrows $47.8 million to improve state highways, railroads, ports and harbors. The Legislature has dropped the ball by not addressing the growing shortfall between gasoline tax revenues and the cost of road and bridge maintenance and repair, but this money will be applied to larger highway projects. It also will tackle railroad upgrades, including $7 million to buy and preserve 240 miles of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway in northern Maine. The bond also provides funds to improve recreational and commercial waterfront facilities.
Question 4 borrows $23.7 million to direct to economic development. The bond would dedicate $8 million to redevelop the Brunswick Naval Air Station, which has enormous potential given its transportation links. It also dedicates $8 million to programs administered by the Financial Authority of Maine to provide loans to qualifying small businesses and farm, fishing and forestry businesses; $3.5 million for grants to revitalize and preserve historic downtowns; $3 million for the Maine Technology Institute for research and development grants; and $1.2 million for a revolving loan fund for historic preservation.
Question 5 borrows $10.2 million to build wastewater treatment facilities and improve public and agricultural water supplies.
States, unlike the federal government, are unable to spend into the red. That’s a good thing. But with interest rates at historic lows, these bonds are a bargain for building and rebuilding Maine. They should be passed.