Despite universal acknowledgment that Maine perennially underfunds transportation and should not permanently borrow its way out of the problem, it has not been a prominent campaign issue in the gubernatorial race. The Portland Press Herald asked all four candidates how they planned to overcome a structural gap in the state’s highway capital budget.

Republican Shawn Moody said he opposed increasing the gasoline tax. Instead, he wants to build the state’s cash reserves, referred to as the “rainy day fund,” so “we can invest in our infrastructure when interest rates are low, and prices are competitive,” he said. Moody also said the state can save money by bidding several construction jobs at once and increasing the number of design-build contracts. He further suggested that merging the Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority could save money.

Democrat Janet Mills, in an email, agreed revenues did not seem to be keeping pace with “desperately needed” repairs and upgrades. She also said reliance on debt financing to pay for maintenance and repairs was not a sustainable, long-term strategy. However, Mills did not directly answer if she was in favor of raising Maine’s fuel tax or what other revenue sources she would consider. “As governor, I will call upon the Maine Better Transportation Association, the Maine Municipal Association, the Maine DOT, engineering professionals, environmental experts and others to design a new system of support for our roads and bridges,” Mills said.

Independent Terry Hayes said borrowing so much for transportation funding means there is less space for bonds to improve education, research and development, and other infrastructure. As governor, she would try to create a payment mix that may include a higher gas tax, added fees or transferring a portion of certain sales taxes to the Highway Fund. “We have to find a better mix for a user paying,” Hayes said. “No one is going to like that, but it is the truth.”

Independent Alan Caron said he would convene a group of experts to examine the highway funding issue. Over time, if energy-efficient vehicles cut into the state’s gas tax, it will likely have to switch to a system that bills drivers for how much they use the roads, instead of how much fuel they consume, he said. Still, Caron was straightforward about the challenge facing the state and said bonding was “kicking the can down the road. … I don’t think anyone has the answer to this problem and I won’t pretend I do,” he said.

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