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Monday, April 14, 11:57 a.m.
Maine ballot 2009 | News

Question 6 — cash for infrastructure upgrades

Question 6 on Maine’s Nov. 3 election ballot is a $71.25 million bond issue — money that would be used for upgrading railroads, airports, bridges and similar parts of state infrastructure.

Unlike the major campaigning and controversies surrounding other questions on the Maine ballot, Question 6 has gone largely unnoticed. Governor John Baldacci proposed the bill in March and the Maine Legislature approved it on June 13, 2009.

A portion of the bond — $9.5 million — is set aside for the University of Maine System for energy and infrastructure upgrades to every campus. The majority of the bond — $50 million — will go to Maine’s highway and bridge fund if the bond passes. Maine will use the rest of the money for such items as state railroads, ferries, the Island Airport Program, an Augusta State Airport upgrade and the LifeFlight Foundation, among others.

In addition to investing in state infrastructure, the bond would also merit an additional $148 million in federal funds, according to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

“The thing about these bonds, like this, it’s not just the money that’s approved by the voters that’s at stake; it’s also the opportunity to leverage DOT-matching funds,” Dunlap said.

The official question on the ballot reads: “Do you favor a $71,250,000 bond issue for improvements to highways and bridges, airports, public transit facilities, ferry and port facilities, including port and harbor structures, as well as funds for the LifeFlight Foundation that will make the state eligible for over $148,000,000 in federal and other matching funds?”

The anticipated interest for the bond is $19,593,750, according to David Farmer, director of communications for the governor’s office. State Financial Commissioner Ryan Low said in an e-mail that money for the bond has been included in the year’s budget.

“The debt service has been accounted for,” Farmer said.

Bill Diamond, chairman of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, said the debt service is based on a state treasurer estimate. He said it was probably a little less than the bond’s estimated cost.

The bond is the first of a three-part voter ratification process of a total of $150 million in federal borrowing negotiated by the Maine Legislature in June. Ballot initiatives in June and November 2010 will include the remaining funds. Dunlap said the state typically spreads bond issues out across several ballots.

“If you put 10 bond questions on the ballot — it’s almost a psychological thing — voters will get some fatigue as they go down the ballot,” Dunlap said.

Maine currently has $4.02 billion of moral obligation bonds, or debt it has a moral, not legal, obligation to repay. The state has $141.37 million worth of untapped bond measures previously approved by voters.

“I think there’s a need. All of the bonds, the whole package of $150 million, that started at $300 million. And that was a negotiated item, between republicans and democrats … It’s pretty important,” Diamond said.

Maine is ranked 39th in road and highway safety, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2004. Proponents of the measure herald the bond’s ability to create thousands of new jobs and improve Maine’s safety record.