Approve bond issues to invest in Maine’s future

Posted June 04, 2010, at 7:56 p.m.

On June 8, Mainers have an opportunity to put Maine people back to work and build a foundation for future prosperity. As co-directors of Opportunity Maine, a nonprofit that promotes innovative investments in Maine’s people, communities and economy, we urge all Mainers to vote for the four bond issues that will appear on the ballot.

Public investments like these four bond issues will help revive Maine’s struggling economy. To understand why, it helps to understand how recessions work.

In a recession, consumer spending and business investment fall dramatically. Both of these factors lead to significant job losses. Consumer spending is hard to restore when families are struggling with lower incomes and higher economic uncertainty. Similarly, business investment only picks up gradually, both because there is less to invest in the wake of recession-caused losses, and because of the uncertain investment climate.

The state can restore the lost jobs in the short term by increasing public investment, and a responsible bonding strategy is one of the best ways to do so. It is also essential that the investments have a high rate of return. That strengthens Maine’s economy over the long term.

Maine relies less on borrowing than virtually any state, and that will still be true after the bond issues pass, so we are uniquely well-positioned to benefit from a responsible bonding strategy. In fact, our state is paying off more past debt this year than the total cost of these bonds.

Each of the bond issues makes investments that result in high levels of job creation or retention and produce long-term value for our economy. Overall, the bonds double their investment by leveraging almost $97 million in federal and other funds.

Question 2 will invest $26.5 million in energy independence and development of Maine’s wind industry. It will finance a deep-water offshore wind energy demonstration project based on technologies developed at the University of Maine. This project will help make Maine a national leader in wind energy generation, and more importantly, will maximize our opportunity to develop a wind turbine component manufacturing industry. The bond also will reduce operating costs through significant energy efficiency improvements at Maine’s public universities, community colleges and Maine Maritime Academy.

Question 3 will invest $47.8 million in vital transportation infrastructure. It will fund critical improvements to Maine’s roads, railways, ports and harbors. Over half of the investments will improve roads throughout Maine, making them safer and reducing costly wear on cars and trucks. In addition, $16 million in rail infrastructure investments in Aroostook, Androscoggin and Cumberland counties will create and retain hundreds of jobs; $7 million will upgrade Maine’s working waterfronts and help fund a deep-water pier in Portland Harbor to accommodate large cruise ships.

Question 4 will invest $23.75 million in economic development. It will support competitive research and development grants, competitive grants for natural-resource-based businesses, and other small-business assistance. Funds will also support the redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, and competitive economic development and preservation grants to Maine towns and cities.

Question 5 will invest $10.25 million clean water infrastructure. It will ensure clean drinking water and protect public health, improve water quality and advance environmentally sound agricultural water use practices. Investments will improve wastewater treatment systems and mitigate wastewater discharge.

All of these bond issues received overwhelming bipartisan support from legislators across the state to get on the ballot. Conservative and liberal economists agree on the importance of public bonding in a recession, so it’s essential that people who care about Maine’s economy turn out to ensure passage.

Passing these bond issues is an important step toward economic recovery, but it is a small one. They will create an impressive 3,400 jobs, but we have lost close to 30,000 jobs since the recession began.

Indeed, Maine would have lost another 13,000 jobs, were it not for the federal stimulus law, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Funds from the ARRA are going to run out soon, and this winter Maine will have to take responsibility for continuing our economy’s recovery. A combination of a bolder bonding strategy, a truly economywide effort to make our buildings more energy efficient and other initiatives can lead us the rest of the way out of the recession.

We will need to push our leaders hard next year, but today, let’s take the first step by voting yes on Questions 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Cliff Ginn and Rob Brown are co-directors of Opportunity Maine, a nonprofit organization that promotes innovative investments in Maine’s people, communities and economy.

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