Pay hospital debt, release bonds, help construction industry

By  Beth Sturtevant, Special to the BDN
Posted May 29, 2013, at 1:03 p.m.

Spring is finally here. The trees are blooming, the grass is growing, and Mainers are bracing themselves as they drive over newly-formed potholes left by our uniquely Maine winters.

We’re several weeks into construction season now, and although building and road contractors are hard at work, there are many in our industry who remain unemployed.

That is why we are urging lawmakers to pass the bill to pay off Maine’s hospital bills, opening the door to an additional $300 million bonding investment in Maine’s economy, especially construction projects that benefit all Maine families and businesses.

When Gov. Paul LePage said in the past he would not issue those bonds until state government settled its nearly $500 million debt to Maine hospitals, we were disappointed that the bonds were being held up, but we understood his position, and we understood the connection. It’s fiscally precarious and a poor signal to creditors when the state takes on new debt without wiping old debt off the books.

That’s why we were so encouraged when Democrats and Republicans agreed on a plan to pay off the hospital debt and get those bonds issued so that those in Maine’s construction industry — and indeed many others — could have a prosperous and busy summer.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Maine is far behind on transportation infrastructure. A report card recently issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Maine a C- for its public infrastructure. The report said that one-third of Maine’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and driving on roads in need of repair costs the average Maine motorist $245 per year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs.

Maine’s broken transportation infrastructure is an economic and public safety problem that must be addressed, and the sooner the better.

If the plan to pay the hospital debt is passed, not only would it be a boon to construction at Maine hospitals, where projects have been canceled or delayed as a result of the debt, but the economic benefits would reverberate throughout the economy. Among the $300 million in proposed or voter-approved bonds are $150 million for transportation infrastructure, $50 million for upgrades to the University of Maine System and $100 million for the construction of a new state correctional facility.

The $100 million in bonds that have already been approved are estimated to create 3,200 jobs alone. In addition, the governor’s innovative new transportation bond proposal is unlike prior proposals in that it targets opportunities for economic development and would complete each project start to finish. It also would trigger $154 million in additional federal and other matching funds to be pumped into Maine’s economy.

This money is waiting to be invested. These jobs are waiting to be created. Best of all, there is already broad, bipartisan agreement from the governor’s office to the Legislature on the proposal to pay off Maine’s hospital debt and issue the bonds Maine’s economy so desperately needs.

That is why we hope the Legislature passes the hospital payment plan without making it contingent on another issue that may never see the kind of consensus enjoyed by the commonsense proposal to pay the hospitals and issue the bonds.

Construction season is already here, and it will be gone before we know it to make way for a new winter and new potholes. Now is the time!

Beth Sturtevant is the president and principal owner of CCB Inc. in Westbrook and the president of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, a construction industry trade association.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/05/29/opinion/contributors/pay-hospital-debt-release-bonds-help-construction-industry/ printed on August 27, 2014