With thousands of households and small businesses struggling with poor internet service, Mainers navigating aging roads and bridges, and with the future of Maine’s farm lands and working waterfronts at risk, Monday’s special session is a chance for the Legislature to pass much-needed bonds that address these issues head-on.
In June, I proposed a much larger bond package which the Legislature really didn’t have time to consider. This revised proposal, which lawmakers will consider on Monday, is $76 million lower than our earlier proposal. We’ve listened to both sides about breaking the bonds up into four different bills and reducing the total amount.
So, I think this is a fair compromise that ought to garner bipartisan support.
The first bond that lawmakers will consider would invest $23m in infrastructure. That includes $4m for capital equipment for career and technical centers across the state and $4m to refurbish and modernize Maine National Guard facilities across the state, with $4m in matching federal funds. The bond also invests $15m for capital expenses to expand broadband, especially in rural communities, and that will attract $45m in federal and private matching funds.
Career and technical education centers haven’t gotten significant funding in decades and our National Guardsmen and women deserve mission-ready facilities, not aging and outdated ones.
And key areas of our state, as you know, lack adequate internet access to do things like telehealth and tele-education and to attract new businesses and new families, and support existing industries, including farms, fisheries and forestries, all of whom have to be online and use the internet.
The second bond would include $15m for municipal wastewater treatment, with $12.5m in matching federal funds, and for remediation of hazardous waste sites as well as loans for heat pumps for Maine homeowners.
You know, Maine’s wastewater treatment systems are being polluted by old septic systems and more than 250 hazardous waste sites statewide need cleanup.
Heat pumps will drive down the costs of heating a home, and if voters approve this bond in November, heat pumps could be available to homeowners with low-interest loans for this very upcoming heating season.
The third bond would invest $20m over two years for the Land for Maine’s Future program, a very popular program, that draws down at least $80m in matching funds.
LMF guarantees continued public access to open lands for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation on these projects and it supports working waterfronts and family farms.
Routinely, Land for Maine’s Future bonds have garnered more than 60 percent voter approval at the polls and I am hoping the same will happen this November.
Finally, the transportation bond would invest $105m in transportation needs with $137m in matching federal funds. We desperately need to upgrade our roads, fix the darn potholes, bridges, ports, rail, and air transportation, repair culverts and a commercial fishing wharf.
You know, fundamentally, historically low interest rates are putting Maine in a very strong position right now to finance these critical capital projects at extremely low costs.
If we can get these bonds out to bid as early as January, we might be able to get interest rates as low as two percent.
So, the proposal considered by the Legislature Monday tackles our most pressing issues, such as aging infrastructure, lack of rural internet service, the need for improved pollution control, and land and waterfront conservation through the Lands for Maine’s Future program.
Maine voters should have a right to decide the fate of these bonds at the ballot box this November and take advantage of significant matching funds and significantly low interest rates for these very time-sensitive projects.
I’m asking lawmakers on Monday to approve these bonds and send them to the voters, to you, for your consideration this November.
I am Governor Janet Mills. Thank you for listening.