Maine, like most other states, bonds a great many projects not funded through the state’s regular budget process.
We borrow, through bonds, to pay for upgrades to our bridges and roads, for building projects at our colleges and universities, for upgrades to water and sewer systems, and for other large public capital improvement projects.
On Nov. 5, voters will face decisions on five bond issues that total $149.5 million in spending. Three of the five issues are for construction projects to upgrade schools, including classrooms and laboratories through the University of Maine System, a new science facility at the Maine Maritime Academy, and for new buildings and classrooms at the seven campuses that make up the Maine Community College System.
There is a $100 million bond question for transportation projects and a $14 million bond issue to upgrade the state’s Army National Guard readiness centers.
The transportation and Guard bonds, if approved, will leverage an additional $154 million in federal funds and other funding, which means borrowing $149.5 million doubles our money. It’s not free money, of course, since we’re talking about borrowed money, so approving the bonds also means we can anticipate $32.89 million in interest payments, but if we’re serious about improving our roads and public colleges and universities, the math works.
Let’s look at the bonds in the order they will appear on the ballot.
Question 1 asks voters to consider $14 million in spending for Maine’s Army National Guard. Of that amount, $3 million will be used to purchase up to 6,000 acres of land. Federal funds cannot be used to purchase land for training, so if Maine intends to expand its training facilities we’re going to have to pay for that with state dollars.
The remaining $11 million of this bond represents the state’s share for repair and modernization of armories, including energy efficient improvement projects. If approved, the bond will leverage up to $14 million in additional federal funds between 2015 and 2019.
Question 2 asks voters to consider $15.5 million in spending to “enhance educational and employment opportunities” at Maine’s university system.
Specifically, $5.5 million would be spent to support the engineering and math programs at Orono; $1.2 million to upgrade science and nursing labs at the Augusta and Bangor campuses; $1.2 million to renovate the science facilities at Preble Hall and Ricker Hall in Farmington; $1.2 million to renovate and expand the nursing lab at Fort Kent; $1.2 million to renovate Powers Hall in Machias; $1.2 million to upgrade technology, engineering and math facilities in Presque Isle; and $4 million to renovate labs at USM.
If we expect our students to keep up with advances in science, math and technology, we have an obligation to provide the facilities in which they can accomplish that work.
Question 3 – the largest expenditure request on the ballot – asks voters to consider spending $100 million to reconstruct and rehab roads and bridges, and to pay for facilities and equipment for ports, harbors, railroads, aviation and transit. That just about covers every mode of transportation possible, except the bicycle.
Of the $100 million, $44 million would be spent on highways; $5 million on secondary roads; $27 million on bridges; and $24 million on other transit projects, including improvements at the International Marine Terminal in Portland.
Everyone knows Maine’s roads need work. Let’s get that work funded.
Question 4 asks voters to consider spending $4.5 million to build a new science facility at the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, where science is a major unit of study. That amount would be matched by other funds to be raised by the school.
Question 5 asks voters to consider spending $15.5 million on our community colleges:
• $3.4 million to upgrade buildings and purchase classroom equipment to expand enrollment of the integrated manufacturing program at the Brunswick campus of Southern Maine Community College.
• $3.4 million to construct a new building and buy equipment for a new implemented precision machining program at York County Community College.
• $2.45 million would expand classroom space at Eastern Maine Community College.
• $2.35 million at Central Maine Community College to construct a new academic building.
• $2 million for environmental improvements and to create classroom space for a new culinary arts program at Kennebec Valley Community College.
• $1 million to renovate Harold Howland Building at Washington County Community College.
• And $900,000 to renovate Aroostook Hall and construct a new maintenance facility at Northern Maine Community College.
These requests are all to accommodate a growing student population at Maine’s community colleges, and to enhance their learning, which we support.
What’s particularly compelling about this last bond question is that it will fund an exceptionally efficient system. Since 2006, the enrollment at Maine’s community colleges has soared while the core cost per student has dropped.
More students are recognizing the affordability of community college tuition, particularly when these college credits can be transferred to other schools.
Although the public was invited to comment on each of the bonds before they moved from the governor’s office to the ballot box, no public comments were provided on any of them, either in support or in opposition to the expenditures. Maybe that’s because it would be hard to argue that, at about 3 percent interest, we have an opportunity to fix roadways, improvement transportation infrastructure and augment educational opportunities for our students.
We urge voters to say yes to all five bond issues on Nov. 5.