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Transportation Bond On Nov. 8 Ballot Enjoys No Organized Opposition

You may have been hearing a lot on the news about the five referenda on the Maine ballot this November as well as the political ads. But there is actually also a “question six” as well. It asks voters to approve borrowing of $100 million for transportation projects.

Most of the money from the proposed bond would go for construction and reconstruction of roads and bridges across the state. But there are also allocations for ports, airports, railroads and bike and pedestrian paths. The proposal was one of the few broadly bipartisan measures passed by lawmakers and supported by Governor Paul LePage. Gorham democratic state representative Andrew McLean, supports the bond.

“If government can’t provide safe, efficient infrastructure, what can it do?” McLean asks. “So people, I think, understand the need for money, for funding of infrastructure projects.”

But McLean, who co-chairs the legislature’s Transportation Committee, also believes that it doesn’t go far enough. He says the state needs to come up with some additional revenue sources beyond the gas tax in order to avoid borrowing nearly every year to to fix roads. He says even if voters approve question six the state will not have enough money on hand to make all the needed repairs accumulated because of deferred maintenance.

“Every year the department of transportation says that we need roughly $170 million more in funding just to keep up with our basic maintenance and we are not doing that,” he says.

But the Maine DOT did get high marks in a national study released last month. University of North Carolina Professor David Hartgen, a Maine native, authored the ranking of all the states for the Reason Foundation. He says the Maine DOT has a national reputation for efficiency and Stretching a dollar.

“They are working on the problems they know about,” Hartgen says. “But ah, compared to other states they have their shoulder on the wheel and are
moving forward slowly.”

Transportation bonds have traditionally passed with solid margins. But this is a most unusual year in Maine: both presidential nominees have high negative ratings and there are five controversial referenda ahead of the bond. Polling indicates that many potential voters are turned off by this year’s campaigns and may not vote at all. But others who don’t usually vote may show up this year. Political scientists say all those factors will likely result in some surprises on election day.

“That being said,” University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer says. “I would be very surprised if the electorate is different in such a way that puts a general kind of infrastructure bond at risk. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, but I would be surprised if it does.”

The $100 million bond, if approved, will allow the state to draw down about $137 million from other sources, mostly from federal transportation appropriations. Projects funded by the bond will be completed over the next couple of years.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.