Bond question advocates getting word out

Posted June 02, 2010, at 8:38 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Advocates of the four bond questions that will appear on next week’s statewide primary ballot are working hard to generate late support for what they call critical short- and long-term investments.

Some heavy hitters of the Greater Bangor community came out to make the case for supporting the bonds on Wednesday at the University of Maine’s AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

Joyce Hedlund, president of Eastern Maine Community College, said although each bond question addresses specific needs, taken together they offer sound and financially prudent opportunities for the state.

The bonds will show up as Questions 2 through 5 on the ballot. Question 2 is a $26.5 million package to support offshore wind research and energy efficiency initiatives at the state’s colleges and universities. Question 3 asks to borrow $47.8 million to preserve rail assets in Aroostook County and fund improvements to port and highway infrastructure. Question 4 would bond $23.75 million for community economic development, the centerpiece of which would convert the Brunswick Naval Air Station into a mix of commercial uses and housing. Last, Question 5 would borrow $10.25 million to fund water quality projects and wastewater management infrastructure.

Economic projections indicate that the $108 million in proposed bonds would leverage an additional $96 million in federal grants and private sector investments and have the potential to create more than 3,000 jobs.

Opponents of the bond questions, including the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, argue that Maine cannot continue to borrow its way to prosperity.

Scott Moody, an economist for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, wrote a recent study, which concluded that Maine’s overall indebtedness leaves lawmakers with two options: reduce spending or raise taxes.

“This study highlights several recent economic studies that show that the best route economically is to reduce state spending, and-or government employee benefits,” Moody said in a recent statement. “Before any new debt is approved, Mainers should insist that legislators deal with these ballooning, unfunded retirement liabilities first and foremost.”

Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, spoke directly to Question 2 and the potential for offshore wind investments in Maine. Already, Dagher and his researchers have begun testing wind technology at UMaine and plans are in the works to create a testing lab that would be the first of its kind in the country.

Rodney Lane, district manager for Lane Construction, one of the state’s largest contractors with 550 employees, said Question 3 would fund critical improvements to Maine roads, railways, ports and harbors. He said one in five construction employees in Maine is out of work, but passage of Question 3 could put more than 700 people back into the work force.

Claire Deselle with the Maine Institute for Human Genetics and Health spoke about Question 4 even though she said her organization might not benefit from its passage. The institute, a subsidiary of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, has been developing a suite of world-class equipment to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer, Deselle said. The $23.75 million covered in Question 4 includes directing money toward research similar to what Deselle and others are trying to advance.

Finally, Kathy Moriarty of the Bangor Water District urged support of Question 5, which would fund water quality and wastewater management improvements. Many water and wastewater components in Bangor and across Maine are aging and in need of replacement, Moriarty said.

John Porter, president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, which recently announced its support for all four bond questions, said he understands voters’ temptation to say no to more borrowing.

“There is a general feeling that we can’t afford it, but we can’t afford not to do this,” he said. “Maine has real problems, but bonding is not one of them.”

The exact wording of the bond questions can be found online at: http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/upcoming.html

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