Straight Talk in Maine on Roads, Bridges, and Rail Maintanence

A Democrat and a Republican who serve on Maine's Joint Standing Committee on Transportation make a strong case for "finding the money" to keep roads, bridges, rail lines, and ports in good repair. They skirt around the issue of raising taxes though.

Reps. Andrew McLean (D-Gorham) and Robert Nutting (R-Oakland) serve on the Legislature's Transportation Committee. In their joint op-ed in the Portland Press Herald, they write that "roads are crumbling, bridges are deficient" while federal gas have been frozen since 1993 "and our state gas tax is below the national average." More specifically:

The stagnant gas tax has led to an annual unmet capital funding need of $150 million. This means we are $150 million short of funding our most basic transportation needs. This is not a “pie-in-the-sky” number. It’s a basic “take-care-of-what-you-have” figure that does not include money for any new roads or long-term transformational projects.

Furthermore, they add that the state has resorted to "bonding for many of our road maintenance needs. While bonding is a viable financing option, it should be used for long-term projects, not year-to-year maintenance."

What's perhaps more notable in the op-ed is what they don't write. They don't suggest increasing the gas tax, or any revenue mechanism for that matter. Perhaps, based on their closing sentences, it's a "heads-up" to Mainers that a dialog on potentially increases taxes to fund transportation has begun? 

The next Legislature must take steps to close the transportation funding gap and make smart plans to rebuild our roads and bridges that will reduce our long-term costs and grow our economy. How we do this is a different conversation, but it is one that is taking place.

Maine legislators worried about the political implications about voting to increase the state's 30-cent gas tax, which is 24th highest [PDF] in the nation, might consider reading Streetsblogger Angie Schmitt's recent piece, "Is Raising the Gas Tax Political Suicide? Not in States That’ve Done It." She summarizes a recent Transportation for America study that showed that 96% of Pennsylvania legislators who voted for their recent gas tax increase won their May primary elections.

And the results of increasing the tax couldn't be more clear for the Keystone State as we just noted: "Pennsylvania's $2.3 Billion Transportation Funding Plan Clearing Project Backlog."

In addition, on the federal level, a AAA survey showed that "68% of Americans want increase in federal transportation investment."

The survey results also showed that 52 percent of respondents would pay higher gas taxes per month for better transportation infrastructure, while 41 percent would not be willing to pay more.

However, gas tax boosters have their work cut out for them in Maine. "Gov. Paul LePage has taken a hard line against raising taxes, including gas taxes. In 2011, he signed the Republican-controlled Legislature’s proposal that halted the state’s indexing of the gas tax to adjust for inflation," reported the Portland Press Herald's Steve Mistler last year. That explains why the very minor annual gas tax increases halted, reflected in the state fuel tax rate chart.

Hopefully we will be providing updates on Maine legislators' attempts to replace bonding with more appropriate revenue mechanisms to maintain and operate the Pine Tree State's transportation infrastructure. Seeing a Democrat and a Republican make the case to address the $150 million annual shortfall is a good start.

Full Story: Maine Voices: Maine’s statewide transportation infrastructure needs fixing

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