Question 1: Do you favor a $14,000,000 bond issue to provide funds for the State’s share of maintenance, repair, capital improvement, modernization and energy efficiency projects for Maine Army National Guard readiness centers and support facilities and the purchase of land for training and to draw down federal matching funds?
The facilities of the Maine Air and Army National Guard need upgrades and repairs, but we do not think bonding for $14 million to fund those repairs is the right answer. One of the best reasons to borrow is to generate an economic return to the state, and — except for energy efficiency improvements — this bond’s limited return does not appear to justify the debt. We would rather see the Legislature fund the Guard at an adequate annual level instead.
Of the $14 million proposed for the armories, $11 million would be used for projects to improve heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, remove asbestos, replace boilers, repoint bricks, repair electrical systems and lighting, complete paving, repair roofs and windows, and update fire alarms and sprinklers at its locations throughout the state. We don’t doubt the need, and the Guard should have well-maintained buildings, but these projects usually — and should — fall within the scope of capital budgets, not bond proposals.
The remaining $3 million would be used to purchase more than 6,000 acres in Maine on which guardsmen would train for deployment and other missions. They currently train in Vermont or Massachusetts. We are skeptical of the need for training space as troop commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, especially if there are training locations in nearby states.
The Guard argues that the bond would help create an improved environment for its soldiers – one that Guardsmen clearly deserve – but if the Legislature isn’t adequately addressing the Guard’s needs, bonding now won’t fix the underlying funding problem. Instead it would set a precedent that going into debt after deferring maintenance is appropriate.
The national industry benchmark for state contributions for routine repair and maintenance of armories is $4 to $6 per square foot of space, according to legislative testimony from the National Guard Association of Maine. Maine’s level of support is less than $1 per square foot.
More specifically, over the past six years, it’s estimated the state has been funding between about 10 and 21 percent of what is deemed necessary to properly maintain the space for which the state is responsible. (That state funding includes armory rental fees and armory sale proceeds, in addition to money from the state budget.) In 2012, for example, the state target for proper maintenance was $2,145,843. It paid $227,008, including $19,328 from armory rental revenue.
The state has been underfunding the Guard for years; it shouldn’t turn to debt to do what it should have been doing over time.
Maine’s bond proposals should be focused on projects that will grow the economy – such as to improve the flow of commerce, create jobs, develop products or educate the state’s future workforce – so the Legislature has more revenue to better pay for armory upgrades. On Nov. 5, we suggest voting no on Question 1.