Governor Janet Mills today presented a bond proposal aimed at rebuilding Maine’s transportation system and conserving lands and waters in honor of famed Maine sportsman George A. Smith, who passed away in February after a long and courageous battle with ALS.
The proposal dedicates $100 million to maintain and upgrade Maine’s transportation system through the Maine Department of Transportation, and, in honor of George Smith, it also dedicates $40 million over four years to conserve lands and waters for Maine people through the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program.
Smith, an avid outdoorsman and advocate for conservation, was a champion of the LMF program. The package, which has broad support among organizations across the state, also aligns with the intent of several bond proposals introduced by lawmakers.
“As we push full speed ahead on our economic recovery, now is the time to conserve in perpetuity the natural resources that form the backbone of our rural economy. In honor of George Smith, a friend to me and a friend to Maine, we are including in our bond package sufficient funds to carry on his beloved program to sustain our heritage — our farms, forests and working waterfronts, saving them from development and making sure they are forever available to fishermen, families and farmers of Maine,” said Governor Janet Mills. “I look forward to working with the Legislature on this proposal, which also continues my commitment to fixing our transportation system and complements our efforts to build an era of success, recovery, health, and opportunity for Maine.”
The bond proposal is scaled-back from the preview offered by Governor Mills in her State of the Budget Address earlier this year, with many of the investments she originally posed – such as funding for innovation in Maine’s heritage industries – now being made through newly-available Federal funds in her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan. That plan is based on the recommendations of the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee and the State’s 10-Year Economic Development Strategy.
With its focus on land conservation and continued commitment to fixing roads and bridges and other transportation modes, the new bond proposal complements the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan. It also comes at a time when interest rates remain at historic lows, according to Maine State Treasurer Henry Beck.
“We will be entering the market having just received better than expected revenue forecasts thanks to the Governor’s fiscal management and Federal assistance,” said Henry Beck, Maine State Treasurer. “Interests rates are at historic lows to the benefit of issuers. Maine bonds are a quality investment now more than ever and will finance vital projects to benefit Maine people.”
Under the leadership of Governor Mills and State Treasurer Beck, credit rating agencies have affirmed Maine’s credit ratings during the pandemic, even as they downgraded other states’ ratings. The State’s Budget Stabilization Fund, or “Rainy Day Fund”, has grown by more than $50 million during Governor Mills’ tenure.
Conserving Working Lands for Maine People:
The Land for Maine's Future Program (LMF) is the State of Maine's primary funding vehicle for conserving land for its natural and recreational value. The program was established in 1987 when Maine citizens approved a bond to fund $35 million for the purchase of lands, and the program’s priority is to conserve Maine landscape, recognizing that working lands and public access to these lands is critical to preserving Maine's quality of life.
Since then, LMF has conserved nearly 604,000 acres of land, more than half of which – 333,425 acres – has been working lands. This includes 41 farms and 9,755 acres of farmlands and 26 commercial working waterfront properties, along with 1,272 miles of shorelines of rivers, lakes and ponds, 58 miles of coastline, and 158 miles of former railroad corridors for recreational trails.
However, the fund is nearly depleted. If the Fund is replenished, LMF can continue its robust conservation efforts, leveraging Federal funding enacted last year through The Great American Outdoors Act, which is expected to send tens of millions of dollars to the state for protection and conservation efforts.
“This funding is crucial to achieving the next generation of land conservation in Maine while supporting our state climate objectives,” said Amanda Beal, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner. “LMF is an effective catalyst for preserving our valued working forests, farmlands, and waterfronts, as well as public lands that provide numerous recreational opportunities.”
“People have flocked to Maine’s public lands and wild areas this past year, reminding us that the need to revitalize Maine’s preeminent land conservation program has never been greater,” said David Trahan, Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. “It is time for lawmakers to approve LMF funding to ensure public access for traditional recreational uses is guaranteed, to protect wildlife habitat including critical deer yards, and to enhance our natural resource-based industries, the backbone of the state’s rural economy.”
“Maine has made considerable progress in conserving land, but there is much more to do,” said Don Kleiner, Executive Director of the Maine Professional Guides Association Executive Director and LMF Board Member. “Land for Maine's future assures that we continue to make progress conserving what we all know and love for future generations.”
“This past year record numbers of families headed outdoors seeking healthy activity at our State Parks, land trust preserves, and other conserved lands. Now real estate markets are accelerating, threatening public access to Maine woods and waters across the state,” said Tim Glidden, President of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. “We look forward to working with the Governor and legislators on both sides of the aisle to ensure the LMF program has, for the first time in almost a decade, the funds needed to secure public access to the outdoors for Mainers everywhere.”
“Maine Farmland Trust is thrilled to see the inclusion of a Land for Maine’s Future Program bond in the Governor’s bond package,” said Ellen Griswold, Policy and Research Director for Maine Farmland Trust. “Agriculture is a key component of Maine’s economy and way of life, but our farmland is a precious and limited resource. The LMF Program is an important source of public funding for protecting Maine’s farmland and ensuring that farmers have the land they need to continue to feed Maine’s economy and people for generations to come.”
“The Nature Conservancy applauds Governor Mills’ commitment to the Land for Maine’s Future Program,” said Kaitlyn Bernard, Natural Resource Policy Advisor for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “LMF has been an effective tool in protecting some of Maine’s most spectacular places and supporting our natural resource economy for over 30 years. This bold investment builds on the great bipartisan efforts of Senator Breen and Representative Corey, and promises to continue LMF’s success revitalizing communities, protecting critical habitat, encouraging outdoor recreation, and supporting Maine’s traditional natural resource-based industries.”
“Land conservation at all scales can provide resilience to climate change. Conserved lands with functioning ecosystems absorb current stresses like flooding and offer resilience for future conditions, as climate change refugia or migration corridors. That is why the Maine Climate Council recommended increasing conserved lands in Maine to 30 percent by 2030,” said Dr. Sarah Nelson, Director of Research for the Appalachian Mountain Club. “Funding the Land for Maine’s Future program is critical in this perilous moment. Now is the time to boost carbon sequestration, protect biodiversity, ensure habitat connectivity, and create resilience in the face of climate change.”
Maintaining Maine’s Transportation System:
The $100 million transportation bond represents a critical part of the capital funding in the Maine Department of Transportation’s (MaineDOT) three-year Work Plan. The bond and matching Federal funds, depending on funding sources and costs, is expected to support capital projects statewide in calendar year 2022, including:
- 304 miles of highway preservation paving, totaling $109 million;
- 74 highway safety and spot improvement projects, totaling $ 41 million;
- 28 miles of highway reconstruction and rehabilitation, totaling over $30 million;
- 68 bridge projects, totaling $169 million;
- 33 multimodal projects including rail, port, transit, and active transportation projects totaling almost $59 million; and
- $8 million for Municipal Partnership Initiatives projects.
According to Federal estimates, this transportation bond and matching funds will support thousands of good-paying jobs now and lay the foundation for economic prosperity in the long-term. If the capital funding for transportation represented by this bond is not provided, MaineDOT will need to dramatically cut back its Work Plan for 2022.
“State bonding remains critical to delivering our Work Plan,” said MaineDOT Commissioner Bruce A. Van Note. “Because this bond will be used to match Federal and other funds, the impact of any reduction of bond funding is amplified. We are fortunate that lawmakers and voters have shown strong support for transportation bonds. We hope that remarkable level of support continues.”
“Transportation impacts everyone in Maine every day, and we know investments in infrastructure pay off in terms of safety, economic prosperity, and quality of life,” said Maria Fuentes, Executive Director of the Maine Better Transportation Association. “Not only will this $100 million in bond funding improve roads, bridges, and other modes of transportation, but also this investment will have an economic ripple effect throughout Maine. We trust that MaineDOT will use these bond funds to get the most value for our citizens, our visitors, and our industry.”
“Investment in Maine’s Federal, State and local road network is key to Maine’s economic health and our presence in the national economy. Good roads ensure that locally grown, harvested and processed products are delivered to businesses throughout Maine and across the county,”said James Gardner, Jr., President of Maine Municipal Association and Easton Town Manager. “The presence of McCain Foods and Huber Engineering Woods in Easton creates jobs and economic opportunities for our rural community, as well as for the residents and businesses in surrounding municipalities. The inclusion of a $100 million transportation initiative in Governor Mills' proposed bond package will ensure that Maine products are delivered in a safe, timely and efficient manner. Municipal officials appreciate the Governor's lead on these issues.”
The proposed bond builds on the Governor’s commitment of $50 million to Maine’s transportation system in the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan.
The Governor is expected to also unveil her supplemental budget, or part two budget, in the coming days.