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Supporters of Maine Bond Package Gear up for Campaign
09/05/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

While supporters of the nearly $150 million in borrowing that's to go before Maine voters this fall believe the package has strong public support, planning is underway for media campaigns to help assure passage. It was only last year that voters rejected a bond for the state's public higher education institutions. Mal Leary reports.

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Last November, Mainers rejected a bond proposal of $11.3 million for the University of Maine System, the Community Colleges and the Maine Maritime Academy by about 16,000 votes. This fall, voters will be asked to approve three separate bonds for the institutions that total $35.5 million.

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, says voters tend to look at bond proposals skeptically, and need to be convinced that the borrowing is worthwhile.

"First and foremost, people who want the higher education bonds to pass need to marshal some resources and concentrate their efforts on making the case to Maine voters why these bonds are essential and why they should vote to support them," Brewer says.

Brewer says if past voter trends are any indication, putting three separate higher education questions on the ballot increases the likelihood that one or more will be rejected.

"I do think of the five bonds that are going to be on there, the three higher education ones are the ones that have the biggest chance of being rejected," he says.

Supporters of the bonds acknowledge that they'll have to educate voter in advance of Election Day, and are setting up campaign groups to deliver their messages. Bill Brennan is the president of Maine Maritime Academy, which would benefit from the smallest borrowing request on the ballot - $4.5 million - that would help fund a new building.

"It's going to require a campaign, absolutely," Brennan says. "And we are going to be aggressive about that, and really work hard to tell the story of Maine Maritime Academy and why it is important to the state of Maine."

Dana ConnorsDana Connors (right), president of the Maine Chamber of Commerce, says the business community supports all five bond proposals, and will join in efforts to convince voters that they are a good investment in Maine's future.

"Mainers are skeptical, and I think that's been inherently good because they have a desire and a need to know what is behind the question and the value it brings, the importance it has for the people and the economy," Connors says.

Connors says that without an effort to sell the benefits of the bonds, supporters could see a repeat of last year's vote.

"There has to be a real ground - a grassroots groundwork on display here, and educating and informing, and having people understand the impact that this brings, the promise that it holds," Connors says. "Otherwise history could repeat itself."

Brewer says the $100 million transportation bond and the $14 million bond to upgrade state armories would probably pass without a campaign. He says voters have long supported transportation bonds by wide margins, and have a long tradition of also supporting the military.

But Maria Fuentes of the Maine Better Transportation Association says her group is not taking anything for granted.

"Nobody is even going to think about this during the month of September," Fuentes says. "And in October, if we don't let people know that there is a vote, and there is a reason to go to the polling places and cast a vote in favor - we can't take that for granted, we need to make sure we get our message out."

And time is of the essence, as lawmakers only just approved the ballot questions last week, and supporters are scrambling to raise money for their campaign efforts. All are concerned that voter turnout will be sparse in an off-year election, with only the bond issues on the November ballot.

Photo:  Mal Leary


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