Bonds passed by voters will strengthen our economy

The state of Maine is a lot like any household. We pay for most of our expenses out of our pocket and keep our budget balanced, ensuring that the money we spend doesn’t outpace the money we take in.

However, there are some things the state needs that it doesn’t make sense to pay for all at once. For these big-ticket items, we borrow money by issuing bonds to investors, and pay those investors off over time, with interest. This is sort of like taking out a mortgage to buy a house, or financing a car or home improvement, but of course, on a much larger scale.

Top credit agencies recently reaffirmed Maine’s strong bond ratings, even as they downgraded many other states during the pandemic. Furthermore, 10-year municipal bond yields are nearing all-time lows, making this a smart time for Maine to issue bonds.

To do that, the Legislature must pass a bond measure by a two-thirds majority, and then send it to the voters for approval. It’s a high threshold to meet, which helps keep the state from borrowing too much or for things it doesn’t need.

Last Tuesday, July 14, voters in Penobscot County overwhelmingly approved three bond measures. These bonds will inject millions of dollars into our economy to build necessary infrastructure at a time when we desperately need it. I was proud to support these bond measures in the Legislature and was glad to see them pass with such strong support.

The first bond passed last week will allow the state to invest $15 million into improving high-speed internet service for Maine families and businesses. The funds will be distributed by the ConnectME Authority, which provides grants and resources to help communities expand access to high-speed internet.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, and students were forced online, we quickly learned why a reliable internet connection can no longer be considered a luxury in this day and age.

 It’s also increasingly becoming a necessity for businesses, as customers go online to shop, place orders and browse reviews. Investing in this critical infrastructure is absolutely necessary for Maine to continue to be a place where families can thrive, and businesses can be successful.

The second bond approved by the voters last week will allow the state to invest $105 million in highways, bridges and other transportation infrastructure. This funding will go to the Maine Department of Transportation, and $90 million will be used to improve highways and bridges statewide, including the Madawaska International Bridge replacement project and associated utility relocation costs, and for the department’s municipal partnership initiative and associated activities.

The remaining $15 million will be used for multimodal facilities or equipment related to transit, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, ports, harbors, marine transportation and active transportation projects and associated activities. 

Voters in Penobscot County also passed a $6 million bond to update emergency communications towers. The bond will allow the county to upgrade equipment that is more than 20 years old, which emergency responders use to communicate directly with dispatch offices. This equipment is critical for keeping our residents and communities safe.

As we try to rebuild and restart our economy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, it is so important that we make the investments we need to move forward. While they won’t get us all the way there, these bond-funded projects will be a tremendous help. 

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to reach out to me. You can call my office at 207-287-1515 or send me an email at James.Dill@legislature.maine.gov. Remember, I work for you.

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