DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Many municipal officials breathed a sigh of relief when a bill became law last week without Gov. Paul LePage’s signature to curtail cuts in revenue sharing in the 2015 fiscal year.
The package that persuaded lawmakers to pass the revenue sharing bill included $40 million from the rainy day fund in addition to anticipated revenue from tax collections and other sources.
While Ted Talbot, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, said that “we [MDOT] don’t anticipate any short-term effects, as we believe this matter will be resolved,” local officials aren’t so sure.
Greenville Town Manager John Simko said that revenue sharing “is a long-standing law meant to disburse revenues, not a program to be funded or not funded as political and economic changes occur. Curtailment of transportation bonds will eventually impact rural Maine, whether in the current work plan or the next one.”
Simko added that the governor’s threat is “like a lousy stepparent who is resentful that a stepkid’s grandparents are putting money into a college fund for the kid instead of [directing] the money he can control. [The step-parent takes] the extraordinary step of not fixing the portion of the leaky roof over the bedroom where the stepkid sleeps.”
Sangerville Town Manager Dave Pearson said he agrees with Simko. “The governor seems to harbor a spiteful streak, and seems to not respect that other elected officials or the public vote has legitimacy as well as himself. I hope he relents,” Pearson said.
More than $22.8 million in road repairs and bridge improvements for Piscataquis County are in the MDOT work plan and another $6.8 million is in the budget for the Dexter area.
Dover-Foxcroft Town Manager Jack Clukey said that it was his understanding that “some of the projects that would be funded with the bonds have already started, and withholding the bonds needed to complete the projects would be problematic.”
Clukey added that Piscataquis County “cannot afford to lose or have delayed any state road improvements. The state has underfunded its road improvement budget for several years now. It’s very difficult to improve our economy here in rural Maine without good roads.”
Milo Town Manager Dave Maynard said that he spoke to an MDOT representative in Bangor “and they have assured me that this project is already funded and they see no likelihood of it being impacted by the delay in the $100 million road bond program.”
Maynard said that his community and neighboring Brownville “both have a very great concern about the MDOT Route 11 project which includes a ‘mill and fill’ portion from Main Street Bridge in Milo to the first railroad crossing going toward Brownville, and a resurfacing portion from those railroad tracks to the Brownville town line.”
Maynard said Milo will also benefit from the “installation of a turn lane into our business park to be installed in conjunction with the preparation phase of the project, and then paved with the existing road alongside.”
The Brownville-Milo work is scheduled to go to bid this month with a construction start in June and the paving portion to be completed in July, Maynard said. “This project is also tied to the completion of our ‘Safe Streets’ Main Street reconstruction project that is due to be completed in June,” he added.
Although State Sen. Doug Thomas voted for the revenue sharing bill, he wasn’t enthusiastic about the legislative process. “Revenue sharing needed to be taken off the table so we could get other work done,” Thomas told the Observer. “Originally the $40 million was going to come from tax expenditures. When that wouldn’t work, it got shifted to the rainy day fund and a couple of other sources.”
The Ripley Republican said that he cautiously optimistic that the governor will have a change of heart. “I would guess the legislature will come to their senses and refill the rainy day fund quietly, and the governor will release the bonds after all the political points are scored.”
Rep. Paul Davis of Sangerville, who is challenging Thomas in a primary for the Senate District 4 seat, agreed with him on this issue. “The roads in Piscataquis County need all the attention they can get,” Davis said.