One simple thing will put 3,000 Mainers back to work

Posted Oct. 30, 2012, at 1:44 p.m.

When you go to the polls next Tuesday, cast your ballot in favor of Questions 2, 3, 4 and 5. These bonds will create jobs for construction workers, carpenters, contractors, engineers, equipment dealers, tourism businesses, farmers, loggers and commercial fishing families. These are not jobs for nameless, faceless strangers but for your friends, neighbors and family members.

Even while other states are starting to climb out of the recession, Maine lags behind the rest of the nation in new job growth and continues to face an uncertain economic future. With more than 50,000 Mainers looking for jobs, these bonds could greatly reduce the number of people not collecting a paycheck. An analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy shows the bonds will create up to 3,000 jobs.

In addition, the federal government and private sector share in the investment to create these jobs. The four bonds, totaling $75 million, makes Maine eligible for at least $150 million more in matching funds. Think about that in terms of your own budget. If you needed $3,000 to repair your leaking roof, and the bank was willing to loan you half and pay for the other half, interest-free, would you take it? Especially when interest rates are at their lowest and your good credit gives you an even better rate?

Maine’s credit rating is good. Interest rates are low. And these investments will put people to work.

Not only would more Mainers have money in their pockets to support their families and spend at local businesses, the bonds will also contribute to long-term prosperity. They will give us safer roads and bridges causing less wear and tear on our cars. We also will have cleaner drinking water, high-quality university research capacity and lands to conserve our farming, forestry and fishing communities.

Question 2 asks voters to invest $11.3 million in new equipment and improvements for the University of Maine, Maine Community College System and Maine Maritime System. The bulk of this would go for a new biologically safe laboratory at the University of Maine. We need up-to-date equipment and science to combat new and ever-more-dangerous outbreaks of food and animal contamination such as E. coli, bird flu and West Nile virus. University-trained scientists will attract research dollars and create jobs here in Maine.

Question 3 asks voters to approve $5 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program. Funds will buy easements to conserve working farmlands, for example. Where rolling fields of hay or apple trees or pastures for dairy cows used to dot Maine’s landscape, we now often see housing developments. In 2002, an American Farmland Trust study showed that the United States was losing two acres of farmland every minute to development. In Maine the rapid loss of farmland puts farmers out of business and hurts our local economies.

Question 4 asks voters for $51.5 million to improve roads, bridges, airports and seaports. We all know how bad our roads are. A recent national transportation report proves it to us. Thirty-three percent of Maine’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition, costing the average Maine motorist $299 a year in tire wear, increased fuel use, repair costs and accelerated vehicle depreciation ($301 million annually for all of us combined). More sobering is that of the 169 highway accident fatalities in Maine each year, one-third — or 56 deaths — can be attributed to poor road infrastructure, such as narrow lanes and shoulders, unsafe intersections and lack of guardrails and medians.

Question 5 asks voters to invest $7.9 million for systems to clean up our drinking water. In Maine, more than half of us get our water from public water systems. We all want to be assured that the water we drink is safe. Encroaching development can sometimes contaminate groundwater. These funds will allow public water utilities to buy land around their wells and make other improvements to protect groundwater and wellheads. It will also allow communities to treat wastewater and test water quality.

Investing in our roads, research laboratories, drinking water systems and conservation lands directly and quickly puts people to work. These workers then have paychecks to pay for food, gasoline, car repairs and mortgages that support small businesses and help our communities prosper.

The decision is simple. Invest wisely. Create jobs.

Jody Harris is a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

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