A Fresh Start
By Lauren Corey, MBTA President
It’s a time-honored ritual. Every year, the Maine Legislature rushes through the final hours of the session, anxious to get home for summer. It can be a tough, hand wringing time for organizations like ours. We had unfinished business on the docket, and we all were watching anxiously to see what would happen to LD 1790, “An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future.”
The legislature did finally act on LD 1790, with substantial majorities in both the House and the Senate voting to pass it. That vote came after language was removed from the bill – what some of us would call “the guts” – that would have established new revenue sources for Maine’s aging and underfunded transportation system. It was an important victory – even if it wasn’t the absolute victory we had been hoping for. The legislature was sending us a message, we have a strong well of support in the legislature, but they need more time to weigh the funding options. In bringing transportation funding back from the grave, we’ve now got the bones; we just need to put the meat on them.
The vote on LD 1790 came close on the heels of the spring election where Maine voters resoundingly approved the $112.9 million transportation bond. That was another effort that MBTA members had thrown significant energy and support behind, and the 3-to-1 voter margin reminds us that everyday Maine citizens understand just how vital good roads, safe bridges and convenient access to rail, ports and airports are to our future. As the newly elected president of the MBTA, I am honored to follow in the footsteps of Scott Leach and Tim Folster who started this discussion in earnest during their terms as president. They worked with the MBTA leadership to define the issues and establish the agenda that has guided us to this point. Many people have helped us along the way, as well, including John Melrose and Maria Fuentes who have been invaluable in providing insight and knowledge of policy. We also had outstanding leadership from LD 1790’s sponsor, Senator Dennis Damon (Hancock), his co-chair on the Transportation Committee, Representative Boyd Marley (Portland), who fought vigorously for its passage, and the majority of the committee members who threw themselves into the effort of getting this bill passed, rallied their colleagues and gave inspiring speeches on the floor of the House and Senate.
We also received help from many members of the coalition we formed, most notably ACM’s John Butts and Eldon Morrison, and Dana Connors and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. We are grateful to Dale Hanington of Maine Motor Transport Association (MMTA) who supported the bill in its original form, and who generously donated editorial space in two Bangor Daily News supplements, so we could get our message to readers. Brian Bouchard, the chair of MMTA, has been expressing the need to fix our roads and bridges consistently in that association’s magazine. Other coalition members like staff and members of PACTS and BACTS helped, and many who are too numerous to name here. We will need all these allies and more – plus every MBTA member – as we make a fresh start this coming fall and winter. We certainly have our work cut out for us.
First, we will be working with the Transportation Committee as it studies jurisdiction and funding issues related to the collector and state aid road network. The Appropriations and Transportation committees will be looking at how the state funds Maine State Police operations, hopefully resolving the inequities that have too much of that money coming from the Highway Fund, further straining the limited resources available to transportation. We also need to step up our efforts to educate members of the Appropriations Committee and others in legislative leadership as we ask them to make transportation a higher legislative priority.
Finally, I would like to thank all of you who have given so generously of your time and money to support the work of the MBTA’s leadership and staff. If you have ever questioned how important the work we do is, just read this issue’s cover story about how great a role transportation plays in the state’s economic development. There is no doubt that transportation keeps Maine – and our economy – on the move. Meanwhile, I hope to see many of you at our Aroostook County meeting in August and the upcoming MBTA convention in September. Have a great summer!