By Maine Governor John Baldacci
As I look at the headlines and study the economic data for Maine and the nation, I see reports that the economy is showing some signs of improvement. Unfortunately, we’re still losing jobs. While the rate of job loss has slowed, that’s not good enough.
In January, Maine’s unemployment rate was 8.2 percent. Up from 8.1 percent in December. A year earlier, the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent. Maine has almost 58,000 people who are unemployed.
I’m not satisfied with a jobless recovery that leaves too many families and businesses behind. I believe we must do better.
To climb out of this recession, job creation and protecting our economy must be our highest priorities. That’s why I have proposed to balance the State budget without a tax increase. That’s why I support cutting the top income tax rate for working Mainers and small businesses. And that’s why I am proposing a job creation investment package that will put people back to work this year.
On Wednesday, I released the details of my proposal to create jobs. It invests $62 million dollars in highways, ports and rail lines. I propose significant investments around the State, including resources to save rail service in Aroostook County. Without these resources, 22 major employers and the largest county in the State would be cut off from rail service.That is unacceptable. Jobs are at stake, and we must act.
In addition, my plan invests in rail service in Lewiston-Auburn, connecting the good work that’s happening in Southern and Coastal Maine with rail. I am also proposing to invest in the Ocean Gateway in Portland, to strengthen our ability to reach markets in the United States and around the world. And to triple the number of cruise ships that visit our State.
The majority of the resources in my plan are targeted toward roads. Drive around the State, and you’ll see the need to invest in our highways. By doing this now, we create jobs and we build a better transportation system that will last decades. The projects are spread around the State, and will help connect our communities and our people, strengthening our economy.
There are road projects in Farmingdale, Newport, Jay and Farmington. Kittery, Dixfield, Bluehill and Rockport. Monmouth and Boothbay Harbor. Around the State, our roads need improvement. All told, the transportation portion of the investment package is projected to create more than 1,000 jobs, and protect many more.
The bond package also includes money to provide communities with clean drinking water and better sewer systems. The $7 million dollar investment will be matched by $26 million dollars in federal resources. This investment will put more than 870 people to work. And it will mean communities will have safe, clean water for years to come.
My plan also invests $5 million dollars in energy efficiency to help large employers in the State save money and protect jobs. And when we invest in energy conservation, our environment is cleaner, our companies are more competitive with overseas competition and jobs stay here in Maine. I understand that some people are concerned about borrowing. But now is the time to make investments in jobs, and to put people back to work quickly.
According to the bond rating agencies, Maine has a strong debt ratio and conservative borrowing practices. As the Bangor Daily News wrote last weekend, the State “can hunker down and hope the recession ends or it can borrow to make strategic investments to create jobs, speed recovery and position the state to prosper.”
“Coupled with spending reductions, borrowing to invest is an important piece of the state’s economic plan.”
The budget I have put forward reduces government spending. It sets priorities, protects our most vulnerable and puts Maine in a stronger position for recovery. The bonds will help to speed that recovery by creating jobs today. And benefits from the work that’s being done will pay dividends for generations.
It’s my hope that we can work in a bipartisan way to balance the budget and put people back to work. We need to take action and we need to take it now.
The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.