It’s easy to see that Maine’s roads and bridges are in need of repair, but the state has other, less-visible needs that are just as important.

Economic development is stalled in vast areas of Maine because homes and businesses there cannot access high-speed internet service. Good-paying jobs go unfilled because there aren’t enough Mainers with the right education and training. Development pressure is eating away at the wild places that make Maine a good place to live and visit.

A bond package that would authorize the state to borrow for strategic investments in those areas should be put before the voters in November. But lawmakers in Augusta are running out of time.

The Legislature adjourned in June without coming to terms on a $239 million package, about half for transportation projects. They have not come back, because Republicans say they want to vote on each bond individually and not as a package. Bonds require two-thirds support in both the House and Senate before they can go to the voters, so Republican lawmakers, who are in the minority in both bodies, feel they can exert some leverage.

According to their leaders, most Republicans support the transportation bond, but their caucus is divided on the others. Democrats prefer an up-or-down vote on all the bonds.

If the parties don’t work out their differences by Aug. 30, it will be too late to get anything on the ballot in November. That’s too high a cost for political gamesmanship.

Maine Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note says that without a bond, the state would have to cancel about half of next year’s projects. Since we are already working off a backlog of projects, doing nothing in 2020 would dig an even deeper hole.

Other needs are just as acute.

An estimated 200,000 Mainers don’t have access to broadband, which is as important to commerce as a highway or railroad. Towns that have lost manufacturing jobs can’t rebound because local businesses can’t connect with markets and individuals don’t have the option of working remotely.

The Maine Community College System is in need of infrastructure investment to expand on-campus job training and mobile welding trailers that can bring training to the places where it’s most needed. Holding this investment hostage doesn’t help Maine workers who would like to upgrade their skills.

And the Land for Maine’s Future program became a political flash point during the Paul LePage years for no good reason. Partnering with communities and nonprofits to preserve public access for special natural places is always popular with Maine voters. Now that LePage is gone, there is no good reason to continue pretending that this is a controversial use of state resources.

Like a vote on the state budget, it makes sense to put the bonds together in one package and call on members of the House and Senate to say “yes” or “no.” After the debate is done, members have to look past some of their specific objections and decide if it’s worth doing something for the general good.

Lawmakers should ask themselves which of Maine’s long-term needs will be easier to deal with if there are no bonds on the ballot in 2019. The answer is “none.”

The Legislature should come back for a special session and finish this piece of unfinished business.

 


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