AUGUSTA — Two years ago, not many people had ever heard the phrase “shovel ready.” Today, of course, we all know it refers to a construction project that is designed, permitted and ready to go.

We also know that money is the only thing standing between a shovel ready project and a project that puts people to work.

Maine has a lot of these projects, and early next week, the Maine Senate is going to have a chance to put more than 2,750 Maine people to work on these shovel ready projects.

With Monday as our target adjournment date, the Legislature has one last shot to send an $85 million jobs bond to voters this June.

Some of the provisions in the jobs package include $34 million for road and bridge repairs, $27 million for rail projects, $5 million for the development of wind energy, $5 million for upgrades at drinking and wastewater facilities and $3.5 million for the state’s first dental school.

The package also includes $7 million for the construction of the Ocean Gateway Deep Water Pier, a shovel ready project in Portland.

Tourism is Maine’s largest industry, and one of the fastest-growing subsets within that industry is cruise ship visits. This investment will take that industry to the next level.

The economic benefits of this investment are significant. Initially, the project will create almost 100 new construction jobs. When it is complete, experts believe it will create about 190 more.

Those jobs are the upfront benefit, but the payout does not stop there. Right now, Portland lacks the ability to host a large, state-of-the-art cruise ship. When the Ocean Gateway is complete, those ships will dock in Portland, bringing 3,000 visitors each to local restaurants, shops and hotels.

Of course, this project cannot get under way until it is funded, and it cannot be funded if the Legislature does not send the jobs bond out to voters.

Critics of the package assert that Maine cannot afford to invest in infrastructure projects that will create jobs. It is unfortunate that they make these claims, because Maine is actually in a very strong position to make these investments.

When most states borrow money, they take from 20 to 30 years to pay it back. In Maine, we pay off our loans in 10 years.

According to Standard & Poor’s, there are 41 states with more debt per capita than Maine. Furthermore, we bond only to invest in infrastructure projects that pay dividends long after the bond is paid off, making us very attractive to lenders.

This is an affordable package and a package that will create jobs this construction season. Not only will more than 2,750 people be working who might otherwise be unemployed, but they also will be building and rebuilding our state’s infrastructure.

We have all driven on roads that are dotted with potholes, and we all know these roads act as a barrier to commerce. Fixing them will help companies move their products much faster and at lower costs — strengthening our economy in the long term.

The rail projects in the proposed bond will also have immediate and long-term impacts.

The purchase of the soon-to-be-abandoned railroad tracks in Aroostook County will save 750 jobs. Also, with the extension of a passenger rail line to Lewiston-Auburn, 84 percent of Maine’s population will have access to rail service.

This legislative session has stood out because of how well the two parties worked together in the face of very difficult challenges. It is in part because of that work that Maine is in a position to make this $85 million investment and create or save more than 2,750 jobs.

There are 65,000 Maine people out of work and hundreds of infrastructure projects that are shovel ready. Now is the time to pass this bond and put Maine people back to work.


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