'Yes on 6' Supporters Urge Passage of Water Bond
FALMOUTH, Maine - A coalition of environmentalists, business and municipal leaders, and others, gathered at Maine Audubon's environmental center in Falmouth this morning to get behind a $10 million bond proposal to invest in Maine's water infrastructure.
"We are here today to officially kick off the 'Yes on 6' campaign for clean water and clean jobs in Maine. It's an exciting day," said Kate Dempsey, who is with the Nature Conservancy of Maine, one of more than 20 statewide organizations supporting the proposal.
Former GOP state lawmaker Stacey Fitts represents the Maine State Chamber. In the chamber's view, he says, Question 6 is a "win-win" for the state's business community.
"It's very clear to business leaders across the state that what's for Maine's environment is also good for Maine's economy," Fitts said.
He says Question 6 on the November ballot will create about 1,000 jobs in Maine, and add $119 million to the state's gross domestic product. Four-point-two million dollars of the bond money would be used to secure $21 million in federal funding to upgrade the state's drinking water system and wastewater treatment facilities.
Jeff McNelly is executive director of the Maine Water Utilities Association. He says much of that infrastructure is seriously outdated. "Many of the projects on the drinking water side are replacing systems that were basically put in place by our grandparents."
McNelly says Maine's clean water infrastructure needs about $60 million of investment to be adequately maintained, but currently only gets about a third of that. The money from the Question 6 bond proposal, he says, would mean the state would increase this level of investment to about half of what's needed. Most of the remaining $5.8 million of bond money would be spent upgrading stream crossings and culverts to reconnect habitat for fish and other wildlife.
Kate Dempsey, of the Nature Conservancy, says these improvements will be especially welcome during storms.
"What happens is our roads blow out," she said. "You don't think about a culvert until it's blocking your passage to work or your kids' chance to get to school, and I think about public safety in communities trying to manage increasing flood risk. And this bond really helps communities begin to grapple with how we're going to begin to adapt to more water from rainfalls and snow melt."
Question 6 is one of six bond proposals on this year's ballot - three of which the governor approved. They include an $8 million bond to create an animal and plant disease and insect control facility, to be administered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service.
There's a $10 million issue to build a research center to seek genetic solutions for cancer and the diseases of aging: The aim, according to the wording on the ballot, is to make Maine a global leader in genomic medicine.
Another question asks voters to approve a $3 million bond to boost biomedical research, specializing in tissue repair and regeneration.
Question 3 proposes a total of $12 million for two small businesses loan programs. Gov. LePage vetoed this particular piece of legislation, but his veto was comfortably overridden by the Legislature in May.
The final question on the referendum ballot puts forward a $7 million bond aimed at expanding seafood and lobster processing in Maine. This proposal - along with Question 6, the water bond - went ahead without the governor's signature.
The governor's position notwithstanding, University of Southern Maine Political Science Professor Ron Schmidt says the bond proposals are all modest enough in scope to have a good chance of being passed.
"These issues suggest to me a fairly cautious investment in issues that have a fair amount of bi-partisan support in the state," Schmidt says. "I think that, although in somewhat wan economic times bonds have a tendency to go down, and although in a lot of states the more bonds you see the worse chance any of them have. But given Maine's record, I think we have a good chance of seeing passage of these."
Schmidt says voters in Maine have a good record when it comes to approving bond initiatives.