Seven months ahead of Maine's gubernatorial elections, independent candidate Eliot Cutler has announced what he desribes as the first in a series of policy proposals: a 21-point transportation and communications infrastructure plan. Cutler, who has launched his second bid for the Blaine House, says more than half of the roads in the state system haven't been properly maintained since the 1950s and many of Maine's bridges have deterioriated to the danger point.
"Nowhere is our failure to govern wisely and invest intelligently more obvious than in our transportation infrastructure," Cutler said at a Portland news conference. "Maine is operating a 20th century transportation and communications network that isn't capable of supporting a robust 21st century economy. Maine needs an upgrade."
This spring, says Cutler, Mainers will become all too aware of the poor condition of the state's roads, and he estimates each motorist spends about $245 a year on auto repairs, much of it fixing the damage caused by potholes or frost heaves.
"This hidden road tax takes about $230 million out of people's pockets every year, and that amount dwarfs what would be cost of better management and wiser investment policies, while a tourist visit to Maine threatens to feel more like an off-road adventure," Cutler said.
Cutler - an attorney by training with a background in public policy - points out that the Maine DOT has to deal with an annual shortfall of $110 million in its budget for maintaining highways and bridges, a number which will increase to $150 million in a couple of years.
He says his administration would close that gap, partly through what he calls "smart and predictable borrowing," taking advantage of historically low interest rates.
Cutler's plan also includes a proposal to increase high speed broadband service, which includes a so-called "dig once" policy, where a conduit for high-speed fiber could be included in construction projects.
"I've turned around businesses, I've started new and successful businesses, and I have never succeeded in a turnaround - and Maine's the greatest turnaround opportunity in America today - I've never succeeded in a turnaround or starting a new business, without some significant amount of borrowing."
Meanwhile Cutler's two opponents in the race for governor both insist they are tackling the state's infrastructure problems.
"Well, liberal politician Eliot Cutler is very long on words and very short on substance," says Brent Littlefield, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who'll be looking to win his second term in November.
He points to the fact that LePage unveiled a three-year, $2 billion plan in January to repair and maintain the state's bridges and roads "that includes 25,000 additional jobs for Maine's highways and bridge projects, additional jobs in infrastructure improvements in ports, rail and ferries, including hundreds of miles of state highway improvements. Gov. LePage is taking actions, he's not just speaking words."
"This campaign is about two competing visions for Maine: Gov. LePage's vision, where you hold investments hostage, or Congressman Michaud's vision that he outlined earlier this year," says Lizzy Reinholt, spokeswoman for Democratic congressman Mike Michaud, who hopes to move north from Capitol Hill to the Blaine House later this year.
By talking about "holding investments hostage." she's referring to Gov. LePage's decision to withhold his approval for the release of $100 million in transportation bonds until a majority agreed to his demand to replenish the so-called "Rainy Day Fund."
Reinholt says that Michaud, as the 2nd District House representative, is already doing a lot of what is outlined in Cutler's plan.
"Congressman Michaud's plan calls for a 10-year investment strategy that will strengthen our roads and bridges, rail lines and ports, while also expanding access to high-speed Internet," she says. "And, unlike any other candidate in this race, Congressman Michaud's the only one who has a proven commitment to investing in our infrastructure."