Every two years, the Transportation Committee develops the Highway Fund budget. This budget is made up of state and federal sources, which are dedicated to road and bridge replacement and investments in our airports, seaports and rail lines. The Maine Constitution requires that highway funds are kept separate from the general fund and can only be used in this manner.
The Transportation Committee is unique in that it is the only other committee in the Maine Legislature aside from the Appropriations Committee that has jurisdiction over its own budget. It is widely known as the most bipartisan committee in the Legislature. In fact, members of the committee often refer to themselves as T’s and not R’s or D’s because our party doesn’t impact the work we do, but instead, our collective effort to improve transportation in Maine is what guides our work. My fellow committee members and I have spent many weeks together working the Highway Fund budget and ensuring resources are being used in the most efficient and effective manner.
This budget makes necessary investments in our roads and bridges that are crucial to our state economy. Included in this budget bill is funding for operations of the office of the Secretary of State, some public safety operations and Maine Department of Transportation funding, which comprises about 80 percent of the Highway Fund budget.
The Highway Fund budget includes $1.3 billion in funding for Maine’s transportation infrastructure. While this sounds like a significant amount of money, this number is spread out over two years and goes to fund the Department of Transportation’s Maintenance and Operations, Highway and Bridge Capital, Multimodal Account and Local Road Assistance Programs. This funding builds our bridges, paves and plows our roads, provides businesses with critical rail links and helps fund our ports so that Maine can continue and expand its trade relations with foreign countries. Without a good transportation infrastructure, we don’t have a strong economy. People can’t move safely from place to place and businesses can’t get their goods to and from markets safely and efficiently.
While the DOT has proven to make each dollar stretch further than before, we still find ourselves with fewer dollars to invest in our roads and bridges each two-year cycle. About two-thirds of the Highway Fund revenue comes from fuel taxes. With newer vehicles having greater fuel efficiency, the revenue collected from the tax continues to drop. This is great news for our environment but leaves the state with less funding for infrastructure projects. This year, I submitted several pieces of legislation aimed at addressing the funding shortfall. Our committee was able to reach unanimous agreement on pieces of them and they were included in the Highway Fund budget. While it was not the $60 million dollars we need to fully fund our infrastructure repairs, we were able to put several million more dollars into the budget to begin the process of addressing the shortfall.
Another bill I put forward this session aims to find solutions to the funding gap we find ourselves with by establishing a commission to study transportation funding reform. This commission would assess the potential for an alternative to the gas tax system currently in place.
The Highway Fund budget represents all that is good about our state – the investments we make in people, places and businesses. Maine people know that our transportation system is critical to our economic success. They also know that it costs us money, but most people believe in the importance of these investments.
This is not an issue for one side or another on the political spectrum. It doesn’t matter if we come from Kittery or Madawaska. We don’t drive on Democratic roads or Republican roads, we drive on Maine roads. Maintaining our transportation infrastructure is too important to let partisanship get in the way.
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