Governor Janet Mills presented a bond proposal aimed at rebuilding Maine’s transportation system and conserving lands and waters in honor of famed Maine sportsman George A. Smith, who passed away in February after a long and courageous battle with ALS.
The proposal dedicates $100 million to maintain and upgrade Maine’s transportation system through the Maine Department of Transportation, and, in honor of George Smith, it also dedicates $40 million over four years to conserve lands and waters for Maine people through the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program.
Smith, an avid outdoorsman and advocate for conservation, was a champion of the LMF program. The package, which has broad support among organizations across the state, also aligns with the intent of several bond proposals introduced by lawmakers.
The bond proposal is scaled-back from the preview offered by Governor Mills in her State of the Budget Address earlier this year, with many of the investments she originally posed – such as funding for innovation in Maine’s heritage industries – now being made through newly-available Federal funds in her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan. That plan is based on the recommendations of the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee and the State’s 10-Year Economic Development Strategy.
With its focus on land conservation and continued commitment to fixing roads and bridges and other transportation modes, the new bond proposal complements the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan. It also comes at a time when interest rates remain at historic lows, according to Maine State Treasurer Henry Beck.
Under the leadership of Governor Mills and State Treasurer Beck, credit rating agencies have affirmed Maine’s credit ratings during the pandemic, even as they downgraded other states’ ratings. The State’s Budget Stabilization Fund, or “Rainy Day Fund”, has grown by more than $50 million during Governor Mills’ tenure.
Conserving Working Lands for Maine People:
The Land for Maine’s Future Program (LMF) is the State of Maine’s primary funding vehicle for conserving land for its natural and recreational value. The program was established in 1987 when Maine citizens approved a bond to fund $35 million for the purchase of lands, and the program’s priority is to conserve Maine landscape, recognizing that working lands and public access to these lands is critical to preserving Maine’s quality of life.
Since then, LMF has conserved nearly 604,000 acres of land, more than half of which – 333,425 acres – has been working lands. This includes 41 farms and 9,755 acres of farmlands and 26 commercial working waterfront properties, along with 1,272 miles of shorelines of rivers, lakes and ponds, 58 miles of coastline, and 158 miles of former railroad corridors for recreational trails.
However, the fund is nearly depleted. If the Fund is replenished, LMF can continue its robust conservation efforts, leveraging Federal funding enacted last year through The Great American Outdoors Act, which is expected to send tens of millions of dollars to the state for protection and conservation efforts.
Maintaining Maine’s Transportation System:
The $100 million transportation bond represents a critical part of the capital funding in the Maine Department of Transportation’s (MaineDOT) three-year Work Plan. The bond and matching Federal funds, depending on funding sources and costs, is expected to support capital projects statewide in calendar year 2022, including:
- 304 miles of highway preservation paving, totaling $109 million;
- 74 highway safety and spot improvement projects, totaling $ 41 million;
- 28 miles of highway reconstruction and rehabilitation, totaling over $30 million;
- 68 bridge projects, totaling $169 million;
- 33 multimodal projects including rail, port, transit, and active transportation projects totaling almost $59 million; and
- $8 million for Municipal Partnership Initiatives projects.
According to Federal estimates, this transportation bond and matching funds will support thousands of good-paying jobs now and lay the foundation for economic prosperity in the long-term. If the capital funding for transportation represented by this bond is not provided, MaineDOT will need to dramatically cut back its Work Plan for 2022.
The proposed bond builds on the Governor’s commitment of $50 million to Maine’s transportation system in the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan.
The Governor is expected to also unveil her supplemental budget, or part two budget, in the coming days.