During a radio interview on Aug. 23, Gov. Paul LePage blamed drivers of hybrid and electric cars for the condition of Maine’s roads and bridges, saying that Maine lawmakers need to address this issue.
The truth is that state lawmakers, transportation officials and road and bridge construction experts have been working hard to address inadequate funding of our transportation system. LePage has not been willing to engage in the conversation. In fact, just last year, he opposed my bill to bring lawmakers and stakeholders together as part of a commission to identify sustainable transportation funding reforms, which would have been an important step toward implementing solutions.
The Legislature’s Transportation Committee, which I co-chair, has worked on a number of bills to improve Maine’s infrastructure over the past four years, including measures that sought to address how fuel-efficient vehicles affect state transportation funding. During that time, LePage has been unwilling to participate in this process, so his comments on WVOM came as something of a surprise to me.
When it comes to solving complex issues like transportation funding, bringing stakeholders to the table to gather and share information so everyone is working from the same facts and figures is a necessary first step. But LePage has been a vocal opponent of legislative studies and commissions to do this, even vetoing their creation despite bipartisan support.
Our infrastructure funding problem in Maine is much bigger than the limited number of electric cars and hybrid vehicles on our roads. The state’s Highway Fund relies on fuel taxes for about two-thirds of its revenue. As new vehicles use less fuel to meet federal efficiency standards, revenue from the fuel tax drops. That makes it more and more difficult to fund necessary infrastructure projects.
According to the Maine Department of Transportation’s projections, we are coming up $168 million short every year of what it costs just to fund basic maintenance and repairs. We have worked with the department to find cost savings wherever possible, but anyone who drives on our roads and bridges can see that finding cost savings alone is not solving the problem. And funding all of Maine’s necessary infrastructure projects on the backs of a small group of drivers won’t work.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t find a way to make sure that people who drive especially fuel-efficient cars still share in the costs of maintaining a modern transportation system. But to suggest that this small piece of the puzzle can somehow bridge a $168 million gap just doesn’t make any sense.
While LePage has sat on the sidelines, the transportation funding problem has been getting worse. On this and other issues, LePage’s obstructionism and habit of vetoing the work of bipartisan legislative committees prevents us from moving our state forward.
When you consider the cost of aging and dilapidated infrastructure, it’s clear we can’t afford to wait. Mainers pay hundreds of dollars per person in additional operating costs every year because of rough road conditions.
And it’s hard to overstate the importance of a 21st century transportation system to our economy. Agriculture and forestry, construction and manufacturing all require reliable roads and bridges. The visitors who spend their tourist dollars here expect smooth and safe travel across the state. If we want our state and its people and businesses to thrive, the state of Maine must commit to funding basic services like roads and bridges.
This isn’t a partisan issue. Mainers of all political backgrounds recognize the simple necessity of investing in our infrastructure. Voters have repeatedly and overwhelmingly approved transportation bond measures at the ballot box. Bonding is an important tool, but we shouldn’t be relying on it to fund basic maintenance.
I am glad to hear that LePage recognizes the ongoing challenges our state faces as we work to maintain our roads and bridges. It’s about time he joined the conversation. If he’s serious about fixing the problem, it is important he come to the table next session so he can be a part of the solution.
Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, is serving his second term in the Maine House. He is the House chair of the Transportation Committee and represents parts of Gorham and Scarborough.