An extra day of work at the end of August, it would seem, does not bring Democrats and Republicans in Augusta closer together.
We didn’t have especially high hopes that Maine lawmakers would do more in Monday’s special session than pass a popular transportation bond. And that’s what happened, with members of both parties agreeing on the much-needed, time-sensitive transportation bond and gridlocking on the three other important bond bills that would have invested in economic development, conservation and environmental protection.
The vote outcomes met our low expectations, yet we somehow still find ourselves disappointed.
We’re disappointed because we believe each of the other three bond proposals are worthy investments in Maine’s future. We think Maine voters should have been given a chance to weigh in on long-term funding for broadband, career and technical education, conservation, wastewater and National Guard infrastructure, among other items. And we’re disappointed that Republicans voted in near unanimity against each of these elements of the bond package.
But, perhaps above all, we’re disappointed in the tenor and finger-pointing that followed Monday’s not-so-special session of legislative action and inaction. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence for a productive second regular session when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
With an increasingly long, if not continual, campaign cycle, maybe that was always going to be the case.
Gov. Janet Mills and other Democrats are attempting to cast Republicans as the “ Party of No” for their votes against three of the four bond proposals. But Republicans, at least in the Senate, are actually acting more like the “Party of Whoa,” arguing in part that the state should wait and assess the overall health of the economy when legislators are back in January before deciding whether to move bonds to Maine voters.
Republicans, at the same time, are attempting to use the bond conversation as part of a political narrative to cast Mills and the Democratic majorities as runaway spenders.
Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson and Republican Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow can’t even seem to agree on the level of collaboration and conversation they had leading up to Monday’s special session — and that’s from two lawmakers who generally get along.
The end result of all this political posturing, whether it is born out of legitimate frustrations or not, is dysfunction and the delay, if not derailing, of much-needed investment. That’s particularly bad for rural Maine.
The need to expand high-speed internet access in many of Maine’s rural communities is both acute and daunting. A $15 million broadband bond would not solve the problem, but it certainly could help connect more Maine people to information and opportunities, particularly in places with access shortages such as Piscataquis, Franklin, Somerset, Waldo, Aroostook and Washington counties.
At a time when employers, educators and policymakers alike are looking to help create a Maine workforce prepared for today’s economy, career and technical education is a critical component. Again, the proposed $4 million in bonding for facility upgrades to Maine’s 27 career and technical education schools and regions — many of them located in more rural areas of the state — is not going to create a highly-skilled statewide workforce overnight. But with an impending demographic cliff approaching, now is the time to be making long-term investments in workforce development, including vocational education.
We’re glad the time-sensitive $105 million transportation bond passed, though we hope that Maine will move away from relying on an unpredictable bonding process every year to fund the maintenance of this fundamental public infrastructure. But Maine has many other pressing capital needs, too.
A flurry of press releases on Monday looked to cast blame for some sort of political advantage, when in reality, there were no winners in this disappointing debate. But there was a clear loser: rural Maine.