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Maine Voters to Decide the Fate of Four Bond Measures
10/15/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

In Maine, most of the focus this election season has been on the U.S. Senate and congressional races, and the same-sex marriage initiative. The $76 million package of bond measures on the statewide ballot has not gotten as much attention. Jay Field has this overview on the four questions voters will be asked to weigh in on when they show up at the polls on Election Day.

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The bond questions immediately follow the same-sex marriage initiative on the ballot. Question 2 deals with higher education. More specifically, do voters want to spend a little over $11 million on capital improvements for Maine Maritime Academy, and the University of Maine and Community College Systems?

Projects would include new animal diagnostic and plant diagnostic and insect identification labs for UMaine, and new machine tool technology at community colleges. Dana Connors says they're wise investments. Connors heads the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

"The skilled workforce that the community college investment of $3 million speaks to is of tremendous significance. We're aware of efforts to try to boost the manufacturing sector and this does that," Connors says.

The State Chamber is supporting all four bond measures. Question 3 authorizes the state to spend $5 million to buy land and conservation easements statewide. The goal here is to preserve wintering areas for deer, offer more access to land for outdoor recreation pursuits, like hunting and fishing, and conserve more working farmland and waterfronts.

It's Question 4 that takes up the majority of the bond package. "We have quite a backlog in terms of funding our highways and bridges," says Maria Fuentes, who is with with the Maine Better Transportation Association. Fuentes heads up Keep Maine Moving, a coalition of groups pushing for approval of the more than $51 million transportation measure.

"As recently as last year, the Department of Transportation said that they need an additional $150 million a year to maintain the system they have, and to make some improvements," Fuentes says. "And so this would certainly be a step in the right direction."

The money would also pay for upgrades at state airports and at two of the state's major shipping centers, the ports of Eastport and Searsport. In addition, if voters approve the transportation question, Maine would become eligible for more than $105 million in matching funds from the federal government and other partners.

The final measure, Question 5, asks voters to set aside nearly $8 million to pay for new drinking water systems and waste water treatment facilities.

"Seventy-five million dollars is a big chunk of change for Mainers to pay, and pay, on top of that, the interest that accrues with it," says Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for Maine Gov. Paul LePage. Bennett says the governor will not support borrowing more money when the state still has huge outstanding bills, including some some $500 million owed to hospitals.

"He does not have that credit card mentality," Bennett says. "He recognizes that Maine is at its own fiscal cliff and that we need to pay our bills first."

Back in the spring, LePage made it clear he wouldn't support bond measures and ended up vetoing a $20 million measure for research and development passed by the Legislature.

While the governor has split with some allies in the business community on the bond questions, at least one business group is offering some support for LePage's hard line. The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, based in Waterville, says it will not suport the higher education, and water and sewer system bonds.



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