Maine Legislature back at work to get transportation deal done

August 26, 2019

Keith Goble

|

State lawmakers are back to work in Maine in an effort to include a question on the state’s fall ballot about whether to approve millions in bonds for highway repairs.

A year ago, voters approved a $105 million bond to fund transportation projects. During the past 12 years, Ballotpedia reports that Maine voters have approved nine transportation bond issues with a combined total of $778 million in bonds.

The money is used to support the Maine Department of Transportation’s work plan. The agency relies on the funds to cover the annual cost of road and bridge maintenance and repairs.

Passage of the transportation bond initiative in 2018 resulted in $80 million in general obligation bonds for construction and maintenance of highways and bridges. The state’s ports, harbors, transit and freight rail, and bicycle and pedestrian trails received $20 million. Another $5 million was applied to culvert upgrades.

Bond advocates want to return to the same well this fall to help cover next year’s highway repair program. First, however, the Maine Legislature must approve legislation to put the issue on the statewide ballot.

Maine legislators were unable to get a deal done during the 2019 regular session to include a bond question on the November ballot. As a result, Gov. Janet Mills has called them back to the capital this week to beat the Aug. 30 deadline to get the $105 million transportation bond language on the ballot.

Passage of transportation bonding would also draw an estimated $137 million in matching federal and other additional funds.

Despite the seemingly annual acceptance of tapping bonds to get road and bridge work done throughout the state, this year’s pursuit was sidelined because the Democratic governor wanted to tie in provisions to cover conservation, broadband, economic development and other infrastructure.

Republicans did not want to lump the proposals together on the ballot. Instead, GOP legislators said voters should decide on four different questions.

Gov. Mills issued a proclamation last week stating the issues would be addressed in separate legislation.

Supporters say this year’s bond issues are needed to secure federal matching funds, and other funds, for transportation work in the state.

Opponents say it’s not good business to rely on borrowing to pay for projects. Instead, they say the state would be better served to increase the tax rates on gas and diesel to pay for needed work and to match federal funds. They say the tried-and-true method of raising revenue is fairer, cheaper and more efficient.

The state’s 30-cent excise rate on gas and 31.2-cent rate on diesel are unchanged since 2011.

Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.