Monday, June 29, 2009

Rep. Doug Thomas responds to Rooks TR commentary

I wrote recently about Douglas Rooks' recent commentary in the Times Record, in which he roundly criticized Rep. Doug Thomas of Ripley, who is on the Transportation Committee.

Rep. Thomas submitted this in response:

On Friday June 19, Maine ’s Department of Transportation Commissioner (MDOT) David Cole announced he will cancel 75-percent of all maintenance paving projects because of reduced funding levels in the Highway Budget approved last week by the Maine Legislature.

Wait a minute. The MDOT has plenty of money, from $130 million in federal stimulus money, to $150 million in Garvee Bonds, to the increase in the gas tax (indexing) every year, to the 40-percent increase in the cost to license a car last year. Maine DOT has never had so much money.

This year's Highway Budget includes a new spending line item: $75 million dollars for the TransCap Fund. This fund enables the MDOT to borrow-and-spend hundreds of millions of dollars above what is in the Highway Budget - without voter approval - none of which can be used for maintenance paving. Hundreds of millions of dollars taxpayers have to repay with interest. We can keep our roads in good condition by using just part of that $75 million. Some of us Legislators tried to make changes to the Highway Budget to do just that, but our ideas were rejected.

There were 3 or 4 plans floated to raise the gas tax, but we can’t afford higher taxes, and there's plenty of money for paving if it is managed effectively. If by not paving roads the department is able to get the gas tax increased then every time they want higher taxes all they need to do is not pave roads. Raising taxes will only allow them to waste even more of our hard-earned money, and believe me they know how to waste money.

Paving may be down, but MDOT personnel services are up and take an ever increasing share of the Highway Budget every year. One MDOT employee gets a $49,000 benefit package on top of his regular salary.

Another problem is spending from the Highway Fund to cover General Fund expenses. The Highway Fund now pays 51-percent of State Police costs when an internal study says that, according to the Maine Constitution, it should be about half that amount. That's about $15 million every year that could go to paving. The $8 million covering the Maine Ferry System has always been paid by the General Fund until this Administration moved it to the Highway Fund. Added together this misdirected revenue alone would pave over 500 miles every year.

Maine people can't afford to pay higher taxes in times like these - and there's no need to. We need to demand the money we are currently sending gets used more wisely. Above all, let's not kid Maine people that those potholes they're driving around are there because Mainer's aren't paying enough taxes.

Rep. Doug Thomas


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