On Nov. 6 Maine residents will have the opportunity to vote on a bond issue that could benefit several University of Maine campuses around the state and and have an impact on both student retention and key areas of the Maine workforce.
Referendum Question 4 asks: “Do you favor a $49,000,000 bond issue to be matched by at least $49,000,000 in private and public funds to modernize and improve the facilities and infrastructure of Maine’s public universities in order to expand workforce development capacity and to attract and retain students to strengthen Maine’s economy and future workforce?”
A key aspect of this question is that the bond issue will be matched by at least $49,000,000 in private and public funds.
Dan Demeritt, the executive director of public relations for the University of Maine System, explained how the matching process works and its significance in relation to the bond question.
“Legislative and University leaders believed it was important that the ballot question make it clear that on-going university resources and private fundraising are part of the facilities investment plan for the University of Maine System,” Demeritt said. “These resources will continue to be invested in the University of Maine System regardless of the outcome on Question 4 in November. If the voters approve Question 4 state tax revenues would repay the debt. The state borrows and retires (repays) debt on an on-going basis and budgets funds for debt service as part of its biennial spending plan.”
The Orono campus is expected to receive the smallest amount of money out of all the UMaine campuses if question four passes, collecting $1.5 million of the payout. In comparison, The University of Maine at Farmington, which has just under a quarter of UMaine’s undergraduate enrollment, would receive $8.5 million.
According to Yes4MainesWorkforce.org, Question 4 would provide more students access to better financial aid opportunities, improve classrooms and labs, bring more students into Maine and provide them with well-paying careers in Maine — all for less than what a new Maine high school would cost.
Neville Hall, which houses the Department of English, Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the Writing Center, would “receive an additional $1.5 million to fund improvement much-needed renovation” if Question 4 passes,” according to Demeritt.
Nursing students would also see some benefit from the bond issue. Demeritt noted that “a big piece of the University Workforce Bond (25 percent) is targeted to address Maine’s nursing workforce shortage.”
Chancellor of the University of Maine System James H. Page spoke about the ramifications of the bond issue on Maine’s floundering nursing labor pool at the Wisdom Summit, hosted by the Maine Council on Aging at the Augusta Civic Center on Sept. 12.
“The University plan to address the nursing shortage creates a coordinated, statewide continuum of nursing education and support for students starting in high school, career-transitioning adults, and existing healthcare professionals,” Page said. “Working across our campuses and with community partners, we will create the innovations and make the investments needed to build a large, more-highly qualified nursing workforce for Maine.”
A five-year plan aimed at doubling nursing enrollment and bringing nursing programs to high-need rural communities was also released at this summit.
“The five-year plan is expected to double total nursing enrollment across the System and more than double the number of location across Maine where students can access pre-licensure nursing education,” according to a press release on Maine.edu.
Public and private resources are at play in funding projects like these. One private resource comes from UMaine’s $200 million capital campaign which has raised $160 million as of August 2018.
“The University budgeted $17.8 million in internal funding (tuition and the state allocation to the universities from taxpayers) on capital facilities in the  budget,” Demeritt said. “Actual expenditures typically range between $20 to $25 million annually as campus budget officers move end-of-year surpluses into capital projects.”
Demeritt also noted that the State Legislature awarded UMaine $50 million in July 2017 to go toward a new Engineering Education and Design Center. More than half of all money flowing into “new public investment in the facilities of the University of Maine System” will go to UMaine over the course of the current two-year state budget cycle, according to Demeritt.
Voting in Orono will take place at the UMaine New Balance Field House on Nov. 6. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can access more information on Question 4 at www.yes4mainesworkforce.org.